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Benefits of Whole Grains

Amy P

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This article was in the Kansas City Star today - I found it to be very eye opening - especially finding out the popcorn is a whole grain :D

The whole-grain story

New dietary guidelines recommend Americans get three servings of whole grains a day. But what's a serving? And can you even recognize a whole grain?


The Kansas City Star

If bread is the staff of life, whole grains are the stuff of good health.

That means wheat bread is better than white, but a side of steamed quinoa (pronounced “keen-WAH”) is even better.

Just in time for January resolutions, the federal government pushed whole grains into the spotlight when it released the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. The new rules urge Americans to make at least half of their grain servings a whole grain. That's three 1-ounce servings a day.

“It was probably the most notable change in the dietary guidelines,” says Mary Mulry, senior director of research development and standards for Wild Oats Markets.

Most Americans eat less than a serving a day of whole grains, and most of our six to 11 grain servings come from bread or cereal. Whole-wheat bread, brown rice and whole-grain cereals are a good start , but most of us begin to flounder after the most obvious choices.

“I don't think people know about whole grains,” says Jane Kirby, a registered dietitian and author of Dieting for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, 2004), which she published with the American Dietetic Association. “Most people think a whole has to be beige, rough and unpleasant to eat. We have a negative perception.”

Many people have a vague idea that whole grains were some kind of health food the hippies ate in the '70s. In the last few years of high-protein/low-carb dieting, many of us steered clear of grains, lumping them with all carbs, rather than recognizing them as complex carbohydrates loaded with protein and other vitamins and nutrients required for good health.

Flash forward to 2005: Most people still don't know that popcorn is a whole grain.


Understanding that whole grains may be suffering from a bit of an image problem, the marketing folks at Orville Redenbacher were quick to enlist Kirby in an education campaign focusing on the benefits of whole grains. And they're not the only food manufacturer eager to cash in on our rush to put more whole grains into our shopping carts.

But whole grains make up just 10 percent of the grains found in a typical supermarket, according to the Whole Grains Council, an arm of Oldways Preservation and Trust, a Boston-based think tank focused on nutrition education.

Clearly there's a marketing opportunity where whole grains are concerned.

So General Mills has announced it will convert all of its breakfast cereals to 100 percent whole grain. Campbell Soup is working to create a line of soups featuring whole grains. Fleischmann's Yeast has launched www.breadworld.com, a Web site that features nearly 100 whole-grain recipes for breads and other baked goods.

“There's a gap of 219 billion extra servings a year,” says K. Dun Gifford, president of Oldways Preservation and Trust.

To bridge the gap, Gifford says Oldways hooked up with manufacturers. Currently 32 food manufacturers, large and small, have signed on as members of the council. “It's fine to talk (about the importance of whole grains), but nothing happens to move us there unless the consumer grabs the product off the shelf and drops it in their shopping basket,” Gifford says.

But since the nutrition labels do not break down fiber content into the amount of whole grains contained in a product, consumers may have a hard time identifying the best sources.

In the next 60 days, orange stamps will be appearing on an array of supermarket products. The stamp is a packaging symbol designed by the Whole Grains Council to help consumers identify whole-grain products at a glance. Three versions of the symbol indicate the level of whole-grain content:

• 100 percent/Excellent: at least 16 grams of whole grain per labeled serving and no refined grain.

• Excellent Source: at least 16 grams of whole grain per labeled serving.

• Good Source: at least 8 grams of whole grain per labeled serving.

Most nutrition experts agree that developing new shopping habits and cooking techniques will take time as Americans gradually move from brown rice to grains with foreign-sounding names like spelt, amaranth, kasha and kamut.

“People are not used to looking for amaranth or bulgur, but I think what you'll find is these products will become more available on (mainstream) supermarket shelves in the very near future,” says Keith Dierberg, brand manager for Fleischmann's Yeast.

He points to General Mills' decision to go whole grain as significant. Other retailers and food manufacturers are making daily announcements of new whole-grain products. “That really shows the availability issue is going to be a non-issue in the coming year,” Dierberg says.

Wild Oats' Mulry also expects to see whole grains go mainstream. She predicts many supermarkets will expand their selections of packaged grain products, frozen entrees and bakery goods, in addition to adding bulk bins. Mulry is already seeing a wider variety of pastas made from whole grains rather than wheat.

The hurdle may not be the availability of grains but the perception that they take longer to cook. Enter Uncle Ben's Ready Rice Whole Grain Brown Rice, an 8.8-ounce microwavable pouch that cooks in 90 seconds.

Rebecca Wood, author of the award-winning cookbook The Splendid Grain (Morrow), has little patience for quick-cooking grains.

“Instant foods have been compromised. They don't have the vitality,” she says. “Resolve to have a new grain each week. Try eating it for a whole week and see how you feel.”

In the end, Wood says, grains “don't take any time, really. It just takes planning ahead.”



Although wheat is the most common grain consumed in the United States, there are plenty of other grains to explore.

Buckwheat, hulled: A favorite pancake ingredient, buckwheat flour and eggs create a complete protein. Hulled buckwheat groats can be cooked like rice and take only 10 minutes to cook.


Quinoa (pronounced “keen-WAH”): With a delicate flavor, quinoa is as versatile as rice. A naturally quick-cooking grain, it was a staple of the ancient Incas. It also contains more protein than any other grain.


Amaranth: A seed with the nutritional profile of a grain, cooked amaranth looks like brown caviar. It can be added to other grains, such as in breads, or used as a thickener or popped like popcorn.


Barley, hulled: Most of the barley consumed in the United States is in the form of beer. Hulled barley is an heirloom variety that has a chewy texture like brown rice.


Kamut (pronounced “kah-MOOT”): From the ancient Egyptian word for wheat, kamut is an heirloom wheat that has never been hybridized. Its large kernels have a buttery, nutty flavor.


Rye, berries: A rarity in American kitchens, rye berries look like whole oats but can be cooked like rice. Rye has a high amount of fiber, which gives a rapid feeling of fullness.


Sources: The Splendid Grain, The Family Nutrition Book, The New Food Lover's Companion, The Whole Grains Council


Common whole-grain foods

• Cheerios, 2/3 cup

• Wheat Chex, 1/3 cup

• Oatmeal (hot, cooked), 2/5 cup

• Grape Nuts, 1/5 cup

• Frosted Mini-Wheats (bite-size), 9 mini-biscuits

• Popcorn (popped), 1 cup

• 100 percent whole-grain cracker, such as Triscuits, 4 crackers

• Whole-wheat pasta, 1/2 cup cooked

• Brown rice,

bulgur, barley, 1/2 cup cooked

• 100 percent whole-grain bread, 1 slice

Amounts are for 1 serving

Source: The Whole Grains Council


Easy ways to add more whole grains to your diet:

• Substitute half the white flour with whole-wheat flour in recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes.

• Add 1/2 cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice or barley to bread stuffing.

• Add 1/2 cup wheat or rye berries, wild rice, brown rice, sorghum or barley to your favorite canned or homemade soup.

• Use corn meal for corn cakes, corn breads and corn muffins.

• Make risottos, pilafs and other rice dishes with whole grains such as barley, brown rice, bulgur, millet or quinoa.

• Enjoy whole-grain salads like tabbouleh.

• Try whole-grain breads and whole-wheat tortillas.

• Buy whole-grain pasta or one that blends whole-grain with white flour.

• Look for cereals made with grains like kamut (a trademarked heirloom wheat variety), spelt (a high-protein wheat) or grano (lightly polished duram wheat kernels).

Source: The Whole Grains Council, www.wholegrainscouncil.org


A tale of two breads

Americans cannot live by Wonder Bread alone.

Spongy, soft and light as air, ordinary white bread weighs in at a mere 1 gram of fiber per slice. That's just not enough for a healthy diet.

“One of the best things we could do for the health of the country is change our relationship with bread,” says Keith Dierberg, brand manager for Fleischmann's Yeast.

But you switched to whole-wheat bread years ago?

Check the nutrition label.

First, look at the ingredient label. If it doesn't start with “whole wheat” or “whole grain” as the first ingredient, it's probably not. Multi-grain is not necessarily the same as whole-grain.

Better breads typically list whole-grain flour as the main ingredient but may include white flour. If a label says “wheat flour,” it is not whole wheat. Avoid eating breads that are simply darker in appearance but ultimately lack the nutrition of a whole grain.

The shorter the list of ingredients, the better. In fact, some breads are made from only whole-wheat flour, water, yeast, salt and possibly a touch of molasses or honey. “Our Honey Whole-Wheat has only five ingredients,” says Lisa Fox, co-owner of Great Harvest Bread Co. in Independence. Around since the '70s, Great Harvest's Honey Whole-Wheat ($3.85 per loaf) has been a best seller. A slice has 3 grams of fiber

Some bread — typically those sold at health food stores, such as the Health Seed Spelt Bread — can offer a hefty 5 grams of fiber per serving. Unfortunately, the fiber content may not always be an indicator of the amount of whole grains contained in a food. That's why the Whole Grains Council has developed a stamp to identify foods containing “good” or “excellent” sources of whole grain foods since the nutrition label does not break down the amount of whole grains under the fiber content line.

Finally hold the bread in your hands and check its heft against lesser breads. Whole grain breads should feel heavier. A loaf of Great Harvest's honey whole wheat is roughly 2.2 pounds. A grocery store brand might weigh closer to 1.8 pounds.

To encourage home cooks to bake more whole-grain breads, Fleischmann's Yeast has recently launched its “Goodfibes” campaign, which includes close to 100 recipes for whole-grain, high-fiber breads at www.breadworld.com.

Traffic at the Web site has climbed 25 percent in the last 90 days, Dierberg says.

— Jill Wendholt Silva/The Star


Anatomy of a whole grain

A whole grain is the entire seed or kernel of the plant. The kernel has three parts:

• The bran is the multilayered outer skin that protects the kernel from damage by weather, water, pests and disease. It contains antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber.

• The germ is the embryo of the plant that will reproduce if fertilized by pollen. It contains B vitamins, some protein, minerals and healthy fats. The fat is what causes a flour to go rancid.

• The endosperm provides energy to the plant and is the largest part of the kernel. It contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Refined grains typically remove the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm. Sometimes refined grains are enriched with the nutrients taken out during processing, but whole grains are healthier. People who eat whole grains have a lower risk of obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.


Popcorn counts

Did you know popcorn is a whole grain?

“Over 90 percent of people didn't realize popcorn is a whole grain,” says Dan O'Connor, director of marketing for Orville Redenbacher. “It really kind of told us we should get an education program out there.”

For the next six months, the packaging for Smart Pop! brand microwave popcorn will prominently feature popcorn's health benefits. The brand will also offer half-serving sizes, about 3 cups of popcorn, which is equivalent to two servings of whole grain.

Plus, O'Connor says, “popcorn is a little more fun than seven-grain bread.”

A familiar, quick and easy way to get a couple of servings of whole grains in a day, just be sure not to load it down with too much butter or salt.

— Jill Wendholt Silva/The Star

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