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Whole Grains

Vegan and Vegetarian GrainsWhole grains make up a significant part of the new Four Food Groups. Be sure to eat plenty of them every day.

Quick Page Summary: It's important to eat five (5) or more servings of whole grains every day. Good choices include barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice, rye, spelt, and wheat. Avoid refined grains, like white flour or white rice, whenever possible, as it lacks nutrients, disrupts your blood sugar levels, and can make you gain weight that's difficult to lose. If you have gluten allergies, you may want to avoid barley, oats, rye, and wheat, as well. Look for products that say "whole grains," and don't be fooled by products that say "100% wheat."

Consumption of whole grains has been associated with a reduced risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and stomach and colon cancer. Additionally, whole grains are believed to be nutritionally superior to refined grains, richer in dietary fiber, antioxidants, protein (and in particular the amino acid lysine), dietary minerals (including magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium), and vitamins (including niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin E).

Daily Recommendations

According to the Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the following are the daily recommendations for fruits and vegetables.

  • Five (5) or more servings a day.
    This group includes bread, rice, tortillas, pasta, hot or cold cereal, corn, millet, barley, and bulgur wheat. Build each of your meals around a hearty grain dish—grains are rich in fiber and other complex carbohydrates, as well as protein, B vitamins, and zinc.

  • Serving size: 1/2 cup rice or other grain • 1 ounce dry cereal • 1 slice bread

Whole Grains - image provided by Wikipedia.orgWhat are Whole Grains?

Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. By comparison, refined grains contain only the endosperm.

  • The outer bran layer is full of fiber, B vitamins, 50 to 80 percent of the grain's minerals, and phytochemicals, which are health-promoting.

  • The endosperm portion if full of complex carbohydrates, protein, and some B vitamins.

  • The germ portion is full of B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals, healthful unsaturated fats, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.

When the germ and bran is removed during milling of refined grains, the grain's nutrient content is reduced by 25 to 90 percent. Most refined grain foods are enriched with some of the nutrients lost in milling.

Why Whole Grains?

When given a choice, you should always choose a whole grain (like whole wheat bread, whole grain wheat flour, brown rice, whole wheat or whole grain rice pasta) over a refined grain (like white bread, white flour, white rice, semolina pastas).

Refined white grains are the nutritional equivalent of eating pure white sugar: They are so quickly converted into sugar that for every cup of white pasta you eat, you may as well be eating 1/4 cup pure white sugar. Your body treats these two foods exactly the same way. Your blood sugar levels will skyrocket and then crash. You will gain weight, and have a hard time losing it.

Whole grains are more slowly converted into usable sugar, and therefore don't throw your blood sugar levels out of whack. They also contain trace vitamins and minerals not found in refined white grains. They have more fibre and can assist in weight loss. They are also more flavorful, hearty, and filling. Eating whole grains can also reduce your risk for bowel disorders, cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.

Healthy Choices

Whole grain foods are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, low in fat, high in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other healthy nutrients.

Experiment with whole grain foods. There are lots of different whole grains available to us nowadays. Try millet, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, rye, oats, barley, brown rice, kamut, teff, and spelt. Each has a unique and delicious flavor. You can now also buy whole grain pastas, such as whole wheat pasta, and whole grain rice pasta (which tastes and looks just like semolina pasta).

The world's healthiest* whole grains include:

  • Whole Grains - BarleyBarley – Barley is a very good source of fiber and selenium. It also serves as a good source of the minerals phosphorous, copper and manganese. Eating barley may help your regularity, lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol, provide intestinal protection, protect against cardiovascular risk factors, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, help prevent gallstones, protect against childhood asthma, protect against cancer and heart disease, and reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Barley is a "gluten grain," so you may want to avoid it if you have gluten sensitivities; however, many individuals with gluten sensitivities have experience no problems with barley. Store barley in a cool, dry place.
     
  • Whole Grains - BuckwheatBuckwheat – Buckwheat is a very good source of manganese and a good source of magnesium and dietary fiber. Buckwheat contains two flavonoids with significant health-promoting actions: rutin and quercitin. The protein in buckwheat is a high-quality protein, containing all eight essential amino acids, including lysine. Eating buckwheat may help your cardiovascular system, control your blood sugar and lower your risk of diabetes, help prevent gallstones, prevent cancer and heart disease, provide significant cardiovascular benefits, and protect against childhood asthma. Buckwheat flour should be always stored in a refrigerator; other buckwheat products should be kept refrigerated if you live in a warm climate or during periods of warmer weather.
     
  • Whole Grains - CornCorn, yellow – Whole grain corn or cornmeal is a good source of vitamin B1, vitamin B5, folate, dietary fiber, vitamin C, phosphorous and manganese. Eating corn may benefit your cardiovascular health and lung health, maintain your memory, support energy production, and prevent cancer and heart disease.
     
  • Whole Grains - MilletMillet – Millet is a good source of the minerals phosphorous, manganese and magnesium. Eating millet may provide heart-protective properties, help repair body tissue, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, help prevent gallstones, prevent cancer and heart disease, and protect against childhood asthma. Store barley in a cool, dry, dark place.
     
  • Whole Grain - OatsOats – Oats are an excellent source of manganese and a good source of selenium, vitamin B1 (thiamin), dietary fiber, magnesium, protein, and phosphorus. Eating oats may help lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stabilize blood sugar, lower the risk for type 2 diabetes, prevent cancer and heart disease, and protect against childhood asthma. Oats are a "gluten grain," so you may want to avoid it if you have gluten sensitivities; however, recent studies of adults have shown that oats, which have a small amount of gluten, are well-tolerated by those with gluten sensitivities. Store oatmeal in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place.
     
  • Whole Grains - QuinoaQuinoa – Quinoa is rich in amino acids and antioxidants and is a good source of manganese magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorous. Eating quinoa may help migraine headaches, promote cardiovascular health, prevent cancer and heart disease, protect against childhood asthma, prevent gallstones, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Store quinoa in an airtight container. It will keep longer if stored in the refrigerator.
     
  • Whole Grains - RiceRice, brown – Brown rice is an excellent source of manganese, and a good source of the minerals selenium and magnesium. Eating brown rice may provide antioxidant protection, prevent cancer and heart disease, lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, help prevent gallstones, and protect against childhood asthma. Since brown rice features an oil-rich germ, it is more susceptible to becoming rancid than white rice and therefore should be stored in the refrigerator.

    Whenever possible, choose brown rice over white rice. The process that produces brown rice is the least damaging to its nutritional value. The milling and polishing that converts brown rice into white rice destroys 67 percent of the vitamin B3, 80 percent of the vitamin B1, 90 percent of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60 percent of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids. Fully milled and polished white rice is required to be "enriched" with vitamins B1, B3 and iron.

    Whenever possible, choose organic rice over conventionally grown rice. Non-organic rice may contain trace amounts of arsenic.
     
  • Whole Grains - RyeRye – Whole rye is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of dietary fiber, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, and protein. It also contains lignan phytonutrients. Eating rye may promote weight loss, help prevent gallstones, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, promote gastrointestinal health, prevent cancer and heart disease, and protect against childhood asthma. Rye is a "gluten grain," so you may want to avoid it if you have gluten sensitivities; however, many individuals with gluten sensitivities have experience no problems with rye. Store rye in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place.
     
  • Whole Grains - SpeltSpelt – Spelt is an excellent source of vitamin B2 (riboflavin). It is also a good source of manganese, vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B3 (niacin), and copper. Eating spelt may help migraines, promote cardiovascular health, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, prevent cancer and heart disease, prevent gallstones, and protect against childhood asthma. Store spelt grains in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place. Spelt flour should be kept in the refrigerator to best preserve its nutritional value.
     
  • Whole Grains - WheatWheat – Whole wheat is a very good source of dietary fiber and manganese. It is also a good source of magnesium. Eating wheat may reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, promote women's health, promote gastrointestinal health, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, help prevent gallstones, prevent cancer and heart disease, and protect against childhood asthma. Wheat is a "gluten grain," so you may want to avoid it if you have gluten sensitivities; many individuals with gluten sensitivities experience significant problems with wheat. Choose sourdough for the best nutrition among commercially baked breads, suggests a study published in the journal Nutrition. Sourdough bread is also more easily tolerated by those with gluten sensitivities.

    Whenever possible, choose whole wheat over white flour or breads (or products made with white flour). The process that produces whole wheat is the least damaging to its nutritional value. In refining flour, the 40 percent that gets removed includes the bran and the germ of the wheat grain—its most nutrient-rich parts. Over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber are lost.

*According to the George Mateljan Foundation. See the "World's Healthiest Foods" web site for more information.

Wheat FlourShopping for Whole Grains

There are several ways to identify whole grain foods:

  • In most cases, whole grain products will advertise on its packaging that it has whole grains. Look for the words "Whole Grains" in large letters on the package.

  • Products that contain 51 percent or more of whole grain ingredients by weight can also make the following FDA-approved health claim: "Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods, and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Whole grain oat foods may also claim that "soluble fiber, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."

  • Whole grain products can also be identified by their ingredients list. Typically, if the ingredients list has "whole wheat," "rolled oats," or "whole corn" as the first ingredient, the product is a whole grain food item.

  • Another way to identify whole grains in the foods you eat is to look in the nutritional facts information and check if the food item contains dietary fiber. If it contains a significant amount, it most likely contains whole grains.

Wild Rye"Wheat flour" generally is not whole grain (unless labeled as "whole grain wheat") and therefore does not indicate a whole grain product. Many breads are colored brown (often with molasses) and made to look like whole grain but are not. Additionally, some food manufacturers make foods with whole grain ingredients, but because whole grain ingredients are not the dominant ingredient, they are not whole grain products.

Additionally, the following food labels are often mistaken for whole grains. These types of food are not whole grains:

  • 100% wheat – This phrase means that the only grain contained in the product is wheat. The food may or may not contain whole wheat—and it usually doesn't.

  • Multigrain – This word means that the product has multiple types of grains. This food may or may not contain whole grains—and it usually doesn't.

  • Pumpernickel – Pumpernickel is a coarse, dark bread made with wheat and rye flours. It may or may not contain whole grains. In the U.S., it usually does not contain mostly whole grain flours.

  • Stone ground – This term refers to grains that are coarsely ground and may contain the germ but not the bran. Often, refined flour is the first ingredient, not whole grain flour.

For more information, see the "Whole Grains" article on Wikipedia.org.

Food Fiber Content in Grams
Food
Fiber Content in Grams*
 
Barley, 1 cup 13.6  
Raspberries, 1 cup 8.36  
Rye, 1/3 cup 8.22  
Whole wheat spaghetti, 1 cup 6.3  
Pear, 1 large 5.02  
Apple, 1 medium with skin 5.0  
Corn, 1 cup 4.6  
Buckwheat, 1 cup 4.54  
Orange, 1 large 4.42  
Banana, 1 medium 4.0  
Oatmeal, 1 cup

3.98  
Blueberries, 1 cup 3.92  
Strawberries, 1 cup 3.82  
Brown rice, 1 cup 3.5  
Prunes, 1/4 cup 3.02  
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice 2.0  

*Fiber content can vary between brands.
Source: Food Processor for Windows, v7.8

GrainsResources

Where can I buy healthy vegan alternatives?
Our sister site, Vegan and Vegetarian Products Guide, lists hundreds of tasty alternatives to dairy, eggs, meat, pet food, supplements, and more that can be found in many grocery stores.

Disclaimer
This web site is intended for information purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. This site is provided by health-minded volunteers, not professionals. Always confirm the information you read with verified medical journals and articles before using the information. Always seek the advice of your physician, dietician, or other qualified health provider before changing your diet or taking supplements.

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