Did you know that September is Whole Grains Month? I write in a monthly newsletter for daycare providers, mostly about nutrition, so I decided to write a short and (hopefully) easy to understand article about whole grains. I wanted to share it here too.
When I found out that September is Whole Grains Month, I decided I should look into what being “whole grain” means. You always hear that eating whole grain bread is healthier than eating white bread, but why? I also learned a lot about finding whole grain foods at the grocery store.
Whole grains (like whole wheat flour) contain cereal germ, endosperm, and bran.
Refined grains (like white flour) only contain the part of the grain called the endosperm.
Common whole grain products:
-whole wheat bread
-whole wheat flour
-whole wheat pasta
Common refined grain products:
-pasta (non-whole wheat varieties)
According to Michael Pollan the germ contributes “some of the most valuable nutrients to the flour, including much of its protein, folic acid, and other B vitamins.” But once the grain is crushed during the milling process, the germ releases a nutrient rich oil that gives the flour a short shelf life. So in the 1800s rollers were invented that could take the germ out of the grain and leave the endosperm, which is good for the manufacturers and others who want flour to have a very long shelf life, but bad for consumers who don’t want what’s left over: refined flour that is high in calories and low in nutrients.
Whole grain foods have many health benefits because they contain things like antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and fiber. In 2002 a study was conducted that said that eating whole grain foods instead of refined grains can be a way to reduce risk factors for type II diabetes. Eating whole grains has also been linked to decreased risk factors for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity.
Sometimes, buying whole grain foods can be confusing if you don’t know what to look for. Whole grain foods and multi-grain foods are not the same thing. Multi-grain means that more than one type of grain is used in the food, like wheat and oats or wheat and corn. “Multi-grain” has nothing to do with whether or not it’s “whole grain.” Also, “wheat bread” is not the same thing as “whole wheat bread.” Be sure to look for the words “whole wheat flour” or “wholegrain wheat flour” on the package for the healthiest flour options.
One way manufacturers try to trick you is by putting a label on their package that says “made with whole grains” or “made with whole grain ingredients.” This just means that part of the grains or flour used is whole grain. If you want 100% whole grain bread, be sure you see the words “100% whole grain.” Another way they try to trick you is by coloring their breads brown with molasses or caramel coloring. So just because you see brown bread on the shelf at the grocery store, doesn’t mean you’re getting whole wheat bread!
I learned these things from wholegrainscouncil.org, wikipedia.org, and 100daysofrealfood.com. You can go to these websites to find out more about whole grains including recipes to try.