Benefits of Unrefined Grains

*Originally published in the September/ October 2015 edition of The Daily Citizen’s Well Now magazine.

September is devoted to whole grains that offer numerous health benefits.
According to fitday.com, studies have linked whole grain consumption to aiding in blood glucose control thereby reducing risk for diabetes, reducing the risk for heart disease and stroke from increased antioxidant intake, reducing colon cancer by 20%, lowering fasting insulin levels and increasing folate levels and reducing hypertension (high blood pressure). But what are whole grains?
“The best way for us to begin a discussion about whole grains is the understand what we mean when we gall grain ‘whole,'” says Nancy Oliver, owner of Good Measure Market in Searcy. “Whole grain is actually the seed of a type of grass in its most basic form.
“We can grind or cook grains from the seed state or the grain can be refined. Refining a grain means that the bran and germ are removed before grinding. White (all purpose or self-rising) flour, white rice, etc., are examples of refined grains. Unfortunately refining removes the part of the grain that holds the most nutrition.”
The best way to begin incorporating whole grains into a diet is to make sure you are choosing the whole version of the grain over the refined version, Oliver says.
“This means choosing brown rise over white, and reading labels to verify that the flour used in a baked product is, indeed, in its whole form.”
So how do we figure out what is a whole grain?
Oliver says to look for the word “whole in the first line of the ingredient list on the packages.
“If flour is listed without ‘whole’ before it, always assume it is referring to refined, white flour,” she says. “Unfortunately, adding coloring to bread is a common practice to make it appear to be made with whole grains. Making a practice of reading ingredients is one of the first steps to taking charge of our own health.”
Examples of whole grains include oatmeal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole rye, spelt, popcorn, whole wheat pasta and whole wheat ready-to-eat cereals.
“There are many different grains that we can consume in the ‘whole’ form,” Oliver says. “Most of us think first of the wheat, but the list also includes rice, oats, quinoa, cornmeal, millet, teff, and more.”
Oliver says whole grains area good source of a wide variety of nutrients, such as the B vitamins and several minerals important for good health.
“Fiber, helpful for good digestion, is another benefit of whole grains,” she says. “A very important point to remember is that the best nutritional choices in eating whole grains lies in choosing a variety of them, and not relying on only one grain to fulfill our dietary needs.”
A new (yet ancient) way to process grains is to sprout them before grinding into flour.
“We’re beginning to see the words ‘sprouted whole grain’ appear on the labels of bread, baked goods, and flour, and this is a great trend,” Oliver says. “In producing sprouted whole grains, the grain is covered with water and drained, allowing the natural sprouting process to begin. When tiny sprouts appear growing from the grain seeds, they are dehydrated and ground into flour.”
“Sprouting boosts the nutritional value of the grain, and preserves naturally occurring enzymes, making it easier to digest. Even replacing part of the flour in a recipe with sprouted flour is beneficial.”
For more information, visit wholegrainscouncil.org.

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