What makes a grain a “whole grain?”
A whole grain is a grain that contains all three of the main parts of the grain (endosperm, bran, and germ). A whole grain has not been refined and stripped of important nutrients. The bran, or outer protective layer of the grain, contains the fiber and a large amount of B vitamins. The germ is the embryo of the seed and it contains unsaturated fat, vitamin E, protein, minerals, and B vitamins. Finally, the endosperm consists mostly of carbohydrates and B vitamins.
Why are whole grains beneficial to health?
Since the bran and most of the germ are removed during the process of refining and milling of grains, the majority of the fiber, minerals, and vitamins are lost. Whole grains, however, still contain the nutrients naturally found in all three parts of the grain. It’s crucial to consume whole grains regularly so that you can benefit from these valuable nutrients. Including whole grains as part of a healthy diet can also help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Why are whole grains important in a gluten-free lifestyle?
People with celiac disease can find many specialty gluten-free products in grocery stores. However, many of these products are based on cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca starch and/or white rice flour. The nutrient composition of these is significantly less dense than those made with whole grains. For this reason, people following a gluten-free lifestyle should try to incorporate whole grains into their diets to get an adequate intake of fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
How to prepare whole grains
Cooking whole grains involves rinsing the grains in cold water, adding them to an appropriate amount of water (or stock), bringing the mixture to a boil, and simmering covered for a specific amount of time. These factors will vary with the type of grain and recipe being used. (See chart below.) But you can experiment with an approximately 2:1 ratio of liquid to grain, for most grains and cook until tender. If liquid has been completely absorbed and grain is still not tender, gradually add small amounts of additional liquid until absorbed and done.
How to store whole grains
Whole grains have a shorter shelf life than refined grains. They are best kept in airtight containers. It is best to store them in a cool, dark and dry environment. Most whole grains can be stored at room temperature for up to one year under these specific conditions. Millet and oats are best used within 2-3 months. Whole grain flours are best kept in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or in the freezer for up to 1 year.
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This article has been assessed and approved by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.