In case you aren’t aware, September is whole grain month. Wheat is America’s most consumed grain, but unfortunately we don’t always consume whole grain products. Many people don’t always know if a product is considered a whole grain or not and food manufacturers don’t make it easy to find out. The answers are fairly straightforward when you have products that are 100 percent whole grains, but when a product’s ingredients include both whole grains and refined or enriched grains the picture is murky at best and it isn’t just because of the added caramel coloring.
What is a whole grain?
All grains start out life as whole grains. Whole grains are the entire seed (kernel) of a plant. The seed is made up of three parts: bran (14.5 percent), germ ( 2.5 percent) and endosperm (83 percent).
The bran is the multilayer outer skin of the kernel. It is tough and its purpose is to protect the rest of the kernel from sunlight, pests, water and disease. It contains antioxidants, the B vitamins and soluble fiber.
The germ is the embryo or sprouting section of the seed that is often separated in the milling process because of its fat content which limits flour’s shelf life. The germ also contains B vitamins, some protein and minerals.
The endosperm is the food supply for the germ, which provides essential energy to the young plant. It contains starch carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Refining to make flour normally removes the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm, losing about 25 percent of the protein and about 17 key nutrients. If after milling all parts of the seed are intact then it is considered a whole grain.
Why eat whole grains?
Studies have shown that consuming more whole grains may help to reduce the risk
of such chronic conditions as heart disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, hormone-related cancers and digestive system cancer. Whole grains may also lower triglycerides, help in weight management, slow the build-up of plaque in arteries and improve insulin control.
When choosing a whole grain bread look for the first ingredient to be 100 percent whole wheat or whole wheat. Don’t go by the color of the bread. Often white bread is darkened because of added molasses or caramel coloring.
What is a serving of a whole grain?
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that all Americans consume at least half of their grains as whole grains. This means everyone age 9 and over should eat at least three servings of whole grains daily.
A serving of a whole grain is:
½ cup cooked rice, bulgur or pasta
¾ cup cooked cereal
1 ounce dry pasta, rice or other dry grain
1 slice bread (1 oz)
1 small muffin (weighing one ounce)
1 cup ready-to-eat cereal flakes
2 cups plain popcorn
Breakfast cereals contribute a significant portion of whole grains to the American diet. Which cereals are whole grains? Here is a list of some popular brands.
Post Selects Great Grains
Kashi GOLEAN Crunch
Cascadian Farm Hearty Morning
Ralston High Fiber
Have you ever cooked couscous?
Cinnamon and Apple Couscous
Makes 6 servings
16-ounce can of apples, pears or other fruit
1 tablespoon butter
10-ounce package whole wheat couscous
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Drain the juice from the fruit into a measuring cup and add water to equal 2 cups. Prepare couscous according to package using the juice and butter.
Dice the fruit and add it to the couscous. Combine sugar and cinnamon and mix with couscous.
Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle with additional cinnamon. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Nutrition information: Each serving 271 calories, 6 grams protein, 56 grams carbs, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams fat, 1 milligram iron
To celebrate Whole Grains Month check out wholegrainscouncil.org and the Whole Grains Stampede Sweepstakes.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.