whole grains

Choosing Grains: Refined vs. Whole

Why are grains “refined”? What exactly does “refined” mean and how did processing grains come to be the norm in our culture? We now refine and process our grain products to the point where most are devoid of any nutritional value. The wheat kernel and other whole grains keep their nutrients intact when a pure form but once the whole kernel is broken apart, it quickly starts to oxidize or spoil. Because of this, prior to the 1900s, flour was milled daily at home or in a community mill. Only enough flour was milled at a time to meet that day’s needs. (Hence the expression “…our daily bread…”) Then, in the 1920s mechanized milling was invented and wheat began to be separated into its’ components. Removing the germ and bran allowed the remaining “flour” to last much longer in storage, and the “byproducts” which ironically are the healthiest parts, were sold for even more profit as cheap cattle feed. Similar processes developed for other grains, for example “white” rice. So now everyone was happy…the grain producers were making more money, the cattle owners were saving money, and the consumers had more convenience. But the bottom line is that we have traded convenience and cheap cost for health benefits!

When whole grains are eaten, you introduce your body to several health benefits:

• The bran and fiber in the grains slows down the breakdown of sugar, thereby preventing “sugar spikes” and keeping your metabolism steady
• Cholesterol is lowered
• Waste moves through the digestive tract more easily
• Fiber is thought to help prevent blood clot formation that can trigger heart attack and stroke
• The essential minerals and plant estrogens you receive may help protect against some types of cancer

Healthy grains include brown rice, barley, bulgur, millet, oats, and rye in their whole form. When you read the list of ingredients on a package, the word “whole” must precede the name of the grain. For example, on a box of cereal, the word “whole wheat” should be listed as the first ingredient. Even bran flakes need to say “whole wheat.”

Less healthy grain choices include:

  • Anything that has been bleached or polished from its’ natural state such as white rice
  • Instant grains such as instant hot cereals like oatmeal, and instant rice
  • Refined starches such as corn starch, potato starch, or modified food

Here are some easy ways to add more whole grains to your meals and snacks:

• Substitute crushed whole-wheat bran cereal and/or rolled oats instead of using bread crumbs in recipes
• Switch from white bread/tortillas/English muffins and bagels to whole wheat versions
• Replace white rice with kasha, brown rice, wild rice or bulgur
• Add whole grains, such as cooked brown rice or whole-grain bread crumbs to ground beef, chicken, and turkey for extra bulk.
• Fortify your soups, stews, casseroles and salads with whole grain wild rice or barley

About the Author

Diana Garcia

Diana thinks things through for us. She likes to be organized. She helps maintain the order and calm in a busy place. Before joining Balance, Diana was a health educator and health program coordinator for a large multi-specialty medical group. She is always looking for (and finding!) the lessons and opportunities life has to offer. With a degree in Psychology, she is the ideal person to lead our mindfulness classes and support groups.

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