Whole Grain Basics
What’s so great about whole grains? The short answer is that they taste great and are an excellent source of nutrition. They contain dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals as well as protective components such as antioxidants.
To get to the heart of the matter, let’s first discuss what exactly a whole grain is. Grains are essentially seeds and are made up of three main components – the bran, the endosperm and the germ.
Bran or the “outer shell”, protects the seed and also provides fibre, B vitamins and some trace minerals.
Most of the inner body of the seed is the endosperm, which is rich in protein and carbohydrates – basically a concentrated energy source.
The germ composes the remaining part of the seed, and contains vitamin E (an antioxidant) as well as other antioxidants and B vitamins.
All of the grain’s nutrients, phytochemicals (health-protective components of plant foods), vitamins, and minerals work together to help maintain a healthy body.
Unfortunately, many food makers and restaurants rely mainly on refined grains, whereby the seed is stripped of its bran and germ (and the bulk of its nutrients), leaving only the endosperm’s carbs and protein.
How can you tell what you’re eating?
1. First, check the ingredient list and look for the word “whole” before the grain’s name (e.g. “whole wheat” instead of “wheat”). Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight so the closer the word is to the beginning of the list, the more whole grains the food contains.
2. Second, check the Nutrition Information Panel. Because the bran is still intact, whole grain foods are typically higher in fibre compared to their refined versions, which should be reflected on the label.
3. Third, scan the product package for any nutrition claims about whole grains.
Look for whole grain varieties of all of your favourite foods like pasta, rice (and other grains), breads, cereals, energy bars and crackers. Now don’t be afraid to give them a try!