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Elements of a Healthy Diet - Wholesome Grains

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: Whole-grain foods - Rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and many other key nutrients, whole grains reduce the risk of many diseases. © Provided by DKBooks Whole-grain foods - Rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and many other key nutrients, whole grains reduce the risk of many diseases.

Whole-grain foods - Rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and many other key nutrients, whole grains reduce the risk of many diseases.

Choose whole rather than refined grains for optimum benefits.

Foods from the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group are important sources of carbohydrates, and form the basis of your diet. Official guidelines recommend that you eat six to 11 servings from this group each day.

It is important to distinguish between whole and refined grains, and to make a point of choosing whole grains. Studies show that certain starchy foods may have a negative effect on health. For example, people whose diets consist primarily of potatoes, white rice, and foods made from refined (white) flour have higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease than those who eat primarily from whole grains. Therefore, try to obtain most of your carbohydrates from whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta, and limit the amount of refined products.

By including whole grains in your diet, you may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease because they are low in saturated fat and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. If you follow a vegetarian diet, whole grains are an important source of protein when they are combined with legumes or dairy products .

What are whole grains?

A whole grain is a grain that has not been processed. It consists of the bran, germ, and endosperm inside an inedible outer coating (hull). The bran forms a protective inner covering and is an excellent source of fiber. The germ is the embryo of a new plant, and is a source of protein, vitamins, and minerals; and it contains polyunsaturated fats. The endosperm supplies most of the carbohydrates, mainly in the form of starch. When grains are processed, the hull, bran and germ are removed, leaving a product—such as white flour—that is deficient in protein, vitamins, and fiber. While some of these nutrients may be replaced and other important nutrients added to products, whole grains are undoubtedly the best choice.

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Refined grains

These are whole grains that have been stripped of their outer coating, bran, and germ during the milling process, leaving only the endosperm to be ground into flour or other products.

Since 90 percent of the nutritional content of each grain is contained in the germ and bran, the refined product is deficient in many nutrients that are not only essential for good health but are known to provide protection against various diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

One of the most commonly used refined grains in North America is white flour, which is found in most commercially produced baked goods.

What is a serving?

Six to 11 daily servings are recommended from this food group, which includes bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. Suggested servings include:

1/2 cup cooked oatmeal

1 cup ready-to-eat cereal

1/2 whole-grain bagel

1 slice whole-wheat bread

1/2 English muffin

1 whole-wheat pancake

1/2 cup cooked brown rice

1/2 cup cooked wild rice

1/2 cup cooked pasta

1/2 cup cooked macaroni

1 medium tortilla

1/2 large baked sweet potato

1 cup mashed potatoes

1 cup cooked buckwheat noodles

1/2 cup cooked barley

1/2 cup cooked couscous

1/2 cup cooked quinoa

4 whole-grain crackers

The versatility of whole grains

Grains are a dietary staple in most cultures, and a look at other cuisines can provide inspiration for your own cooking. For example, long-grain rice is used as the basis of pilafs in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, while short-grain rice cooked in simmering broth produces the creamy risottos of Italy. These and other grains are now widely available, and you can be as creative as you like when cooking them.

Which grains can I use?

Grains can be eaten whole or processed into cold and hot cereals or flour for many food products, such as breads, muffins, and soups. In general, grains are a good source of vitamins and minerals, especially B vitamins and calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. Healthy grains to use include:

Whole wheat

Used to make cereals and flour for bread, whole wheat can also be cooked as a cereal or used instead of rice. Whole wheat is packed with B vitamins. Cracked wheat is wheat broken into small pieces for faster cooking. Bulgur wheat is partially cooked and dried before being cracked.


These have more protein than most other grains. They are also high in soluble fiber, which helps eliminate cholesterol from the body. Whole oats (or groats) are the whole grain but with the hull removed. Rolled oats (or oatmeal) are whole oats steamed and then flattened between rollers.


Rich in starch, corn can be eaten fresh, on or off the cob, or used as hominy—hulled and dried corn, which has neither the bran nor the germ. Ground hominy is known as grits, and cornmeal is made from dried kernels.


Whole barley is nuttier and chewier than pearled barley (polished barley without the hull and bran) and must be soaked before cooking. In malted barley, the grain is allowed to begin sprouting; it is the main ingredient in beer and malt whisky.


Similar to wheat in nutritional value, rye is frequently used with wheat in bread products. Rye is available in whole and cracked rye grains which can be cooked as cereal or ground into flour for baking.


This grain contains nearly as much protein as wheat. It is available in whole and cracked forms and is usually stripped of its tough, inedible hull. It is used in cakes, cookies, bread puddings, and as a substitute for rice.


An excellent source of protein, this grain can be substituted for, or added to, nearly any other grain and is particularly good in pilafs.

Brown rice

Retaining both the bran and the germ of the rice kernel, brown rice is a source of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. Brown rice may need to be cooked in more water than white rice and takes longer to cook (about twice as long).

Wild rice

This has twice the protein of white rice and fewer calories. Use it in the same way as white or brown rice.

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