Nowadays, the rise in awareness about consuming a healthy diet is unfathomable. All social media platforms are fraught with loads of information about healthy food ingredients, such as grains or leafy greens. Popular influencers seem to be endlessly raving about how their bodies have responded well after switching to a healthy and balanced diet.
Healthy Living is Not Just a Choice
Living life to the fullest does not imply leaving yourself free in the world without even a tad bit of worry about your health. Our bodies are complex mechanisms by nature. In addition to keeping your body active by running, working out, or walking daily, you must feed healthy foods to it too.
Opting for a healthy and active lifestyle – implying eating healthy foods and working out – should not be merely a choice. We should all eat a healthy diet so that we can enjoy our lives with our loved ones. The food guide pyramid also emphasizes consuming nutrient-rich foods, such as whole grains.
In addition to having numerous benefits for our body, adhering to a healthy diet also helps prevent several grave conditions, such as cancer.
Grains – An Introduction
Amid all the discussions about consuming healthy foods, the word “grains” pops into your mind almost instantly. We all have heard that grains are full of energy, essential minerals, required vitamins, and even an effective substitute for meat.
Grains are a member of the Poaceae family. They are commonly known as cereal grains, including but not restricted to barley, rice, wheat, oats, and corn. The scientific dissection of a single piece of any grain reveals the structure of the grains.
The three most essential parts of all the grains are:
- The Bran: it is the outermost layer of the grain filled with fiber and B vitamins.
- The Germ: it is the embryo of the grain containing various oils, proteins, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals.
- The Endosperm: found above the embryo, the endosperm part of the grains is full of carbohydrates and protein.
Difference between Whole and Refined Grains
Grains are generally divided into two main categories: whole and refined. Let us have a look.
1. Whole Grains
These are the purest form of grains which means that they are minimally processed. Whole grains have all the three parts mentioned above intact. Endosperm comprises about 85% of the wheat grain.
2. Refined Grains
Refined grains only have the endosperm part. Since the germ and bran part of any grain contains most nutrients and protein, refined grains are devoid of them. Refined grains have a longer shelf life than whole grains as the oil in the germ part turns them rancid when exposed to heat and light.
Consumption of Grains in a Day
Authorities assert that every adult is required to consume six to eight ounces of grains every day, consisting of whole grains, for the most part. Grains are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help fight off many chronic conditions. The antioxidant property of the grains makes them the best food ingredient for people suffering from various health conditions, such as diabetes.
Replacing refined grains with whole grains full of potassium is the best you can do to lower your blood pressure. Moreover, the dietary fiber present in grains has unmatched nutritional benefits. The high fiber content in the whole grains makes them stand low on the glycemic index, rendering them more digestible and less likely to cause sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.
Some Common Whole Grains
Also known as Amaranthus cruentus, amaranth was the widespread staple crop of the Aztecs. Amaranth is immensely popular nowadays due to its gluten-free property. It is primarily used in baking. This whole grain is technically not a grain as it is not a member of the Poaceae family.
However, amaranth is treated as a grain and is safe for people with celiac disease. Amaranth is loaded with protein – comprising all the nine essential amino acids, such as lysine. Most other grains do not have lysine in their proteins, so amaranth grains have the upper hand in this regard.
If you cook the kernels of amaranth, you will find that they are similar to couscous when prepared and have a peppery taste. 14% of each kernel of amaranth is made up of protein. It is a delicious grain that is also gluten-free. You can make gluten-free muffins and granola bars using amaranth.
The scientific name is known as Hordeum vulgare. Historically, it dates back to around 8,000 BCE. Barley has a high carbohydrate ratio while having less gluten. It is used mainly in making flatbreads and porridge.
The barley you usually find in the stores near you is the refined version of the grain, also known as the pearled barley. If you want all the nutrient-rich goodness of the whole grain barley, look for whole or hulled barley. Whole barley has a nutty flavor and chewy texture.
Barley is loaded with fiber which is very helpful in decreasing cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of heart disease, and possibly preventing type-2 diabetes. Due to its chewy texture and thick, nutty flavor, barley increases the deliciousness of soups and stews. You can also use boiled barley instead of rice in paella.
Known in the scientific community by Fagopyrum esculentum, buckwheat is not truly a whole grain as it does not belong to the Poaceae family. Buckwheat is a fruit that is harvested as rhubarb. It has tiny triangular seeds.
Buckwheat is high in an antioxidant called rutin, which helps lower the damage in the body cells that might become a leading cause of several chronic diseases. Cooking buckwheat is not difficult at all. You can ground it and mix it in the flour to make crepes, pierogi, and soba noodles. Buckwheat is also the main ingredient of a famous Russian side dish called whole groats.
It has a nutty flavor with a hint of bitterness. Whole buckwheat flour is usually added to chocolate chip cookies or gluten-free pastries.
Bulgur or Triticum is the precooked, cracked, and dried form of wheat. It is high in potassium, calcium, iron, and B vitamins. The nutrient makeup of bulgur is similar to that of brown rice, but it has more dietary fiber and less fat. Bulgur has a strong earthy and nutty taste.
It is the star ingredient of tabbouleh salad and kibbeh meat patties. You have to take water and bulgur by the ratio of 2:1 when cooking bulgur. Let the kernel absorb water, and then you can use it.
Also known by the names farro Medio or emmer, this whole grain is full of protein and fiber. It is very popular in Italian cuisines such as farrotto and Zuppa di farro. The best quality of this grain is that it retains its shape even after long hours of cooking. Thus, farro is the most-wanted base for all the grain bowls recipes.
Farro grains or kernels pop in your mouth when you chew them. They are similar to wild rice or wheat berries. It would be best if you let them soak overnight before cooking. If you get semi-pearled farro, then the cooking time is drastically reduced compared to the time taken by whole-grain farro.
Farro grains contain larger amounts of protein and dietary fiber than brown rice, couscous, or pasta. It is also a great source of magnesium which is imperative for a healthy bone structure and immune system. Farro also has a vitamin B3 complex which is crucial in converting food into energy.
If you want to enjoy the health benefits of farro to the fullest, you should combine it with legumes. It is an effective option for vegans as it has all the nutrients of any meat.
Some Common Refined Grains
Refined grains offer fewer nutrients than whole grains as their bran and germ are removed. They only have endosperm, which makes them lose significant amounts of dietary fiber. Though most whole grains can be refined, the following are commonly found refined grains.
Scientifically known as Triticum, wheat can be refined into white flour. However, this whole grain’s most common type of refined variety is wheat (Triticum aestivum). Refined wheat is perfect for baking bread.
You can also use it to make the tortillas flour, which is used to make burritos, fajitas, and French pastries. You can also use the all-purpose wheat flour to make potato Gnocchi.
There are several health benefits associated with the consumption of wheat which primarily includes its healthy nutritional value. 100 grams of wheat contains 9 grams protein, 10.7 grams fiber, 61 grams carbs, and only 2.5 grams fat. This makes it suitable for consumption even in larger quantities. Besides, it has essential vitamins and minerals as well which make it all the better for human health. This includes Vitamin B, Niacin, Folate, Zinc, Iron, Manganese, and Magnesium.
The main reason why wheat is considered a staple food in many countries is that it is one food item that provides you with all the essentials as well as extras to keep your body running without any problems. Moreover, wheat has been linked with the reduced risk of heart diseases as well. Many other health benefits have also been evaluated with wheat such as prevention of Type II diabetes, controlling obesity, preventing chronic inflammation, preventing breast cancer, and reducing the chances of several other diseases as well.
Zea mays or corn is mainly sold in refined form – implying that it is degermed and grounded into cornmeal. There are tons of products available that utilize cornmeal, including cornbread, polenta, corn tortillas, grits, masa, and many more. Instead of finding whole grains, you are most likely to find baked or cooked products made up of refined cornmeal.
Corn is used in a variety of dishes such as soups, Chinese cuisine, and even some American cuisine as well. You might have heard about “Corn on the cob” and “Chicken Corn Soup” which are popular all over the world. Corn is among one of the healthiest grains because of its high content of Vitamin C. This increases the level of antioxidants in the body to eliminate the free radicals and protect the body against different types of diseases. Corn has also been linked to fighting off heart problems and different types of cancer as well.
In addition to that corn is also linked with providing protection against Type II diabetes. It can even help in improving your vision as well as skin health. It may appear like a small grain but one corn contains enough nutrients to have you running for half a day. 100 grams of corn contains 3.4 grams protein, 21 grams carbs, 1.5 grams fats, 218 mg potassium, and 1 mg sodium. It is also a useful source of Vitamin A, Iron, and Calcium.
3. White Rice
All the types of white rice are refined – that is, their germ and bran have been removed. The various varieties of refined white rice include jasmine, sticky rice, basmati, long, short, or medium-grain rice, and even the rice noodles used in pad Thai. White rice is also among the staple foods of many countries because of the different types of cultural cuisines and the popularity of rice dishes all over the world. In Asian cultures, rice is consumed even more than wheat or other food items.
Although white rice is chemically processed, it isn’t always harmful to human health. As a matter of fact, its nutritional content provides you with the essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins as well. 100 grams of cooked basmati rice contains 3.5 grams protein, 25.22 grams carbs, 0.38 grams fat, 32mg potassium, and 126 mg sodium. As you can see, cooked white basmati rice has a low-fat content which is why it can be used for people who are following certain diet patterns in order to lose weight.
As far as the health benefits of white rice are concerned, you’ll be glad to know that they can help in lowering blood sugar levels. They are usually gluten-free and safe for consumption. White rice can also prove to be useful in terms of heart health. They will also keep your gut healthy. People who often face different types of digestive distress are recommended to eat white rice because they are easy to digest.
Tips for Buying and Storing Whole Grains
Look for the whole grains stamp by the Oldways Whole Grains Council on the packaging to ensure that you are buying whole grains. It is a consumer advocacy group that created the official stamps in 2005. These stamps indicate three levels of whole grains used in the products, including 100 percent whole, 50 percent plus whole grain, or whole grain.
Check the ingredients at the back to ensure that whole grains are used to make the product you are buying. The list should have whole grains at, at least, the first or second place.
Brown rice and oats are almost always whole grains.
You can ignore the following terms on the food items while searching for products that are made of whole grains:
- Made with whole grain
Always buy whole grains that have tight packaging which is sealed well and check for the expiration date on the label and buy accordingly
The best way to store whole grains is to use air-tight containers. Ensure that the lid of the container is tight and well-fitting
Place the jar in a cool and dry place. For maintaining the freshness of the whole grains, do not keep the jar in direct sunlight.
Tips for Cooking Whole Grains
- Whole grains take up a lot of time to cook. Therefore, it is best to plan your cooking time. Health is crucial for life. Hence, whole grains should be consumed without worrying about how long their cooking time is.
- Wash the kernels thoroughly before cooking. Soak the whole grains, such as oats, overnight to minimize the cooking time
- The best way is to cook in big batches. You can boil big batches of whole grains and then add them to various dishes throughout the day, such as in breakfast porridge, green salads at lunch, and soup or stock at dinner.
- You can also cook many whole grains as pan-fried fritters. Just add egg and your favorite seasoning and treat yourself with something very delicious and yummy.
- One of the best cooking tips is to dry-roast the grains before cooking. It unlocks a whole new set of raw flavors of the grains.
- After adding water to the dry-roast whole grains, let them simmer in water for a while. Directly bringing the water to boil will create a mess on your stovetop and reduce the liquid fast.
Whole Grains are Versatile
Nothing beats the nutritional value of whole grains. They are extremely healthy as they are loaded with protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Grains are versatile, and there are numerous ways to cook them – such as soups, salads, loaves of bread, baked items, etc.
If you are looking to increase your fiber or protein intake, you can consider adding different types of grains to your regular diet.