Grains come from a family of grasses (Gramineae) that are also called cereals. A grain is the seed part of these grasses. All grains start out as “Whole Grains”.
“Pseudo-cereals” are seeds from grasses that are not from the Gramineae family but are still considered cereals. Some examples are Amaranth, Buckwheat, and Quinoa. Another non-cereal that is considered a grain by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is Flaxseed.
A Whole Grain
A Grain is comprised of three parts:
Bran — The multi-layered fibrous coat that protects the grain from the sun, insects, and diseases.
Endosperm — The energy supply for the germ and plant.
Germ — The embryo of the plant.
Grains can be prepared whole, cracked, split, ground/pulverized (a.k.a Flour), boiled, pearled or cooked.
For a product in a store to be considered a “whole grain” product, all the parts of the grain (Bran, Endosperm, Germ) must be present in the bread in the same proportion as they are naturally found.
Note that terms such as “whole wheat” or “multi-grain” are not regulated and can be confusing. To make sure products labeled as whole grains (“Whole Wheat”, “Whole Grain”…) will provide larger amounts of whole grains, it must be the first ingredient on the label, meaning it makes up at least 51% of the product by weight.
Whole grains are high in complex carbohydrates in comparison with refined grains. Complex carbohydrates are polysaccharides, which are made up of long chains of sugar molecules. These long chains in bread are also known as starch. Complex carbs take longer to break down in the body and keep your blood sugar levels stable especially in the presence of fiber. Refined grains in food products are listed in the ingredients section with terms like white flour, bleached flour, or enriched flour. When grains are processed, the Bran and Germ are removed leaving only the Endosperm behind.
In the body refined grains are broken down and absorbed quickly. This happens because refined grains are grains that have been ground/pulverized, which exposes more of the grain’s surface, allowing your digestive enzymes to break down more of the grain. Whole grains on the other hand contain more complex carbohydrates and are not completely pulverized. They have less of their surface are exposed and that makes it difficult for your body to break down all the carbohydrates. This allows the grain to take longer to digest and the body absorbs it gradually, which keeps your insulin and blood glucose levels from spiking.
A diet high in whole grains along with a healthy lifestyle is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Whole grains that have high soluble fiber (fiber that gets absorbed by the body) like Oats and pearled Barley can help decrease LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, help lower your blood pressure, and help improve your blood glucose levels. Grains that are high in insoluble fiber (fiber that does not get digested and absorbed by the body) can moderate your blood sugar levels and even act like a prebiotic.
Another benefit of Whole Grains are the bioflavanoid antioxidants found in them. These flavanoids can help dilate your lymphs. Your lymph system is responsible for clearing toxins from your body and bioflavanoids can help boost your immune system. When your lymphs are dilated they can flush out even more toxins from your body so eating these fruits can be very beneficial for you even when you’re not sick. This is a great example of preventive medicine; you’re helping to fortify your body against disease including cancer.
Wheat as a Whole Grain
Wheat starts out as a very nutritious raw material but usually ends up as a final product that isn’t as nutritious as it once was. When wheat (and other grains) is processed, about 60% of the grain itself is removed (the Germ and Bran). About ½ of the B vitamins, zinc, copper, phosphorus, calcium, and iron are removed in the process. The remaining wheat is “enriched” with some of the nutrients that were lost and this final product is known as “Enriched wheat flour”. This type of white flour is high on the glycemic index, meaning, it can cause your blood glucose levels to spike up when you eat it.
Whole wheat on the other hand contains all of the vitamins and minerals including a good amount of vitamin E. This form of wheat is also known as “Whole Wheat flour” or “100 percent Whole wheat” as an ingredient in food products. Whole Wheat products can help reduce the incidence of colon cancer, reduce the risk of breast cancer by decreasing the amount of estrogen in your blood, and it can help improve your bowel function.
The downside to Whole wheat or whole grain flour is that is has a shorter shelf life. Whole grains contain more oils than the non-whole grains and oils go rancid (breakdown) in the presence of light speeding up the decaying process. The best way to slow this process down in your home is to store bread either in the fridge or in a cool area. Keeping the bread covered in a dark area may help as well.
A second and very important thing to note is that the FDA allows bread manufacturers to put a seal or label on their breads that says “Whole Grain”.
When in doubt, look for these stamps on the packaging of your bread from the Whole Grains Council.
There are two variations of the Stamp: the Basic Stamp and the 100% Stamp.
- If a product bears the 100% Stamp, then all its grain ingredients are whole grains. There is a minimum requirement of 16 grams – a full serving – of whole grain per serving, for products using the 100% Stamp.
For example, if 1 serving size of a loaf of bread is two slices, then 16 grams of the total weight of the two slices has to be made up of whole grain flour (as opposed to water and other ingredients in the bread).
- If a product bears the Basic Stamp, it contains at least 8 grams – a half serving – of whole grain, but may also contain some refined grain. Even if a product contains large amounts of whole grain flour (23g, 37g, 41g, etc.), companies will use the Basic Stamp even if the product also contains extra bran, germ, or refined flours.They are required to do this because the product still doesn’t meet the 16 gram requirements for whole grain flour.
Each Stamp also has a number, which tells you how many grams of whole grains are in one serving of the product.
|THE BASIC STAMP||THE 100% STAMP|
|Product may contain some
extra bran, germ, or refined flour.
|For products where ALL
of the grain is whole grain.
|Minimum requirement for this label: 8g (8 grams)
of whole grain per serving.
(one half serving of whole grain)
|Minimum requirement for this label: 16g (16 grams)
of whole grain per serving.
(a full serving of whole grain)
In my personal opinion, many of the Whole Wheat breads that are sold in stores are not truly Whole Wheat breads because the grains used are all pulverized into flour. A truly a Whole Wheat bread would have little chunks of grains or intact grains all throughout the bread and not just along the crust. Grains in this form would help keep the bread from digesting too quickly because it reduces the surface area that’s exposed to your digestive enzymes making less of the grain available for your body to digest. This would keep your blood sugar levels from rising as fast as breads made solely with flour or even whole grain flour.
Multigrain breads contain multiple grains instead of just wheat. They are heartier than wheat flour loafs and can come in forms like 7-Grain, 10-Grain, 15-Grain…etc and use grains like oats, barley or flaxseeds. What makes multigrain breads great is that they can provide you with a larger range of vitamins and minerals and can boost the fiber content of the bread. A multigrain bread that’s also labeled with the Whole Grains Council stamp can be a great addition to your diet because it provides you with various whole grains instead of just wheat. They may also have a crust that’s sprinkled with intact grains as well, which is a plus. On the other hand wheat is still the primary grain with the other grains at a distant second place. They tend to be minor additions to the bread because they are usually listed in the middle or towards the bottom of the ingredients list. The first ingredient in breads (usually wheat) makes up about 50% of the bread itself.
Whole and Cracked Grains (3-5 servings a day, 1 serving = ½ cup of cooked grain
In this type of grain product, you can see the grain as large chunks. Because grain in this form is not ground or pulverized like Enriched flour, less of the grain is exposed to digestive enzymes in your gut meaning less of it is broken down and absorbed. Therefore, it won’t raise your blood sugar nearly as fast as enriched flours.
Steel Cut Oats – An example of a Cracked Grain.
Whole Grains themselves contain fiber, which is an important part of our diets. Americans on average do not get nearly enough fiber per day. Some examples of Whole grains with high amounts of fiber are: Bulgur wheat (8 grams of fiber per cup), Quinoa (5 grams per cup), and Brown rice (4 grams per cup).
Contrary to popular belief, bread is not a good source of fiber. Whole grain and cracked grain breads only give us less than 2 grams of fiber per slice – about 7-8% of your daily requirement of fiber. This is important to understand because our diets tend to lean heavily towards carbs and breads are usually touted as good sources of fiber. You would have to eat over 12 slices of whole grain breads per day in order to get almost 100% of your daily fiber requirements. Men would have to eat even more than that.
Your best bet is to bake bread yourself because you control what ingredients are used and how much of those ingredients go into it. Home made breads can help boost the fiber content a bit, providing around 2.8 grams per slice, which can be 11-12% of your daily requirement of fiber. It can also boost the manganese and selenium content as well.
Whole Grains are also very good prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods that contain an ingredient that can increase the number or activity of the good bacteria in your gut.