October 2013 Issue
By Melinda Lund, MS, RD
Vol. 15 No. 10 P. 38
Here’s a simpler way to counsel clients about intact, whole grains and their many health benefits.
It’s common practice for nutrition professionals to tell clients about the goodness and health benefits of whole grains, also known as intact grains. Many clients already know they should eat more whole grains, but despite the wealth of nutrition information available to them, they still may not understand what whole grains are and how to choose the best foods that contain them. And they may not know anything about how whole grains are processed, and that certain processing methods can remove many of the nutrients vital to health.
In this article, Today’s Dietitian defines intact grains (the true whole grains) in simple terms clients will understand, discusses the various processing methods for these grains, and lays out some of the best whole grain foods to buy that retain their high nutritional profile.
Whole Grains 101
Whole grains, or foods made from them, contain all the essential parts of the grain seed; in other words, they contain 100% of the original kernel, which includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. All three of these kernel layers must be intact—hence the term “intact grains.” Because these layers are intact, the grain contains a richer nutritional profile of antioxidants, B vitamins, protein, minerals, fiber, and healthful fats than grains that have been stripped of the bran and germ layers through processing. According to Andrew Weil, MD, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, “Whole grains are grains that are intact or in a few large pieces, not whole wheat bread or other products made from flour.”
“To look into the best way to incorporate grains in the diet, it’s useful to define what a grain actually is and what it provides as far as nutritional value is concerned,” says Angela Jenkins, RD, LD, project coordinator at Ozarks Regional Food Policy Council CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri. “Grains are small, hard, dry seeds—with or without attached hulls or fruit layers—harvested for human or animal food. The main types of commercial grain crops are cereals such as wheat and rye, and legumes such as beans and soybeans. Grains are an important contributor to health and have been since biblical times.”
How Intact Grains Are Processed
What’s important for clients to understand is that whole grains often are processed, and that the processing method used determines the final product’s nutritional status. Whole grains that are processed just enough to improve palatability or digestibility still have the bran and germ layers partially intact. Whole grain foods that are minimally processed include steel-cut oats, cracked wheat, and stone-ground whole wheat.
Milled whole grains go through a process in which the bran, endosperm, and germ layers are milled into a fine flour to make whole grain pasta, breakfast cereals, and breads. Refined grains have the bran and germ layers removed during processing. Only the endosperm remains, which mostly is comprised of refined starch. Refined grains have a high glycemic load and therefore are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
In general, processing changes a grain’s calorie density and glycemic load. The calorie density of a processed whole grain product (eg, whole wheat bread) is similar to that of white bread, and the final product of a milled or refined grain has a much higher glycemic load than its intact whole grain counterpart.
The best option for clients is to select products that contain the grain in its whole, natural form to get the most nutrients and the least glycemic load. Once they know how to select the most nutritious grains, dietitians can counsel them on how to incorporate them into their diet.
Several intact grains are available for clients to include in their diet. Some of the more common ones include the following:
Barley originated in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, where it has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years. Since wheat was very expensive and not widely available in the Middle Ages, many Europeans at that time made bread from a combination of barley and rye. In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced barley to South America, and the English and Dutch settlers of the 17th century brought it with them to the United States.
Hulled (or dehulled) barley is considered an intact grain because only the outermost hull of the grain is removed, while pearl barley isn’t considered an intact grain because its hull and bran have been removed. Hulled barley is somewhat chewier than pearl barley and requires longer soaking and cooking times, but ultimately it’s more nutritious.
Barley contains 13 g of fiber per cup along with selenium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. The dietary fiber in barley is high in beta-glucan, which helps lower cholesterol by binding to bile acids and removing them from the body. Clients can use barley in soup or dishes that normally call for rice (eg, stir-fries, pilafs).
Clients must soak hulled barley for several hours or overnight, using twice the amount of water to the amount of barley. Soaking the barley facilitates digestion and reduces cooking time. Once the barley has soaked, clients should drain and rinse it. To cook, combine 1 cup of presoaked barley for every 3 cups of water in an uncovered pot and bring it to a boil. Then reduce the heat and allow the barley to simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Salt shouldn’t be added before the barley finishes cooking, as it prevents the water from being properly absorbed.
Oats, which are a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, selenium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, have been cultivated for 2,000 years in various regions around the world, originating in Asia from the wild red oat plant. Scottish settlers brought oats to North America in the early 17th century. Today, the largest commercial producers of oats include the Russian Federation, the United States, Germany, Poland, and Finland.
After they’re harvested and cleaned, oats go through a roasting process. They’re hulled—although not stripped of their bran and germ layers, ensuring they retain their fiber and other nutrients. Oats are processed in the following ways that don’t alter their nutritional value:
• Oat groats are unflattened kernels that are best used as a breakfast cereal or for stuffing.
• Steel-cut oats have a dense and chewy texture. To produce the grain, processors place them on a machine of steel blades that thinly slice them.
• Old-fashioned oats are steamed and then rolled flat.
• Quick-cooking oats are processed like old-fashioned oats except they’re finely cut before being rolled. These oats found in instant flavored oatmeal contain higher sodium levels to help speed the cooking process, so inform clients who are watching their sodium intake.
Brown rice is believed to have been first cultivated in China about 6,000 years ago, although recent discoveries have found primitive rice seeds and ancient farm tools dating back about 9,000 years. The Spanish introduced rice to South America in the 17th century during their colonization of the North American continent. Currently, Asia grows the majority of the world’s rice, with Thailand, Vietnam, and China being the three largest exporters.
The process of producing brown rice removes only the hull of the rice kernel and is the least damaging to its nutritional value. When brown rice is further processed to make white rice, the majority of the B vitamins, phosphorus, and iron and all the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids are removed, requiring producers to add back the B vitamins and iron.
Brown rice is a good source of manganese, selenium, magnesium, and fiber, with 1 cup of cooked brown rice containing 14% of the Daily Value of fiber.
Considered a pseudocereal, quinoa technically is a seed. It originated in the Andes region and, along with maize, was one of the two foundational foods of the Inca Empire. Most quinoa consumed in the United States still comes from South America, with Peru as the largest commercial producer.
Quinoa contains significant amounts of lysine and isoleucine, which add to its ability to serve as a complete protein source. About 25% of quinoa’s fatty acids come in the form of oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, and about 8% comes in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega-3 fatty acid most commonly found in plants. Quinoa contains significant amounts of certain tocopherols (1 cup = 2 mg of gamma-tocopherol) that typically aren’t found in grains. It’s also a good source of folate, copper, and phosphorus.
Quinoa can be used in any recipe in which you’d use rice. It also makes a delicious warm breakfast cereal.
Clients can prepare quinoa by first rinsing it in cold water to remove the saponins that contribute to its slightly bitter taste, although most quinoa sold in the United States already has this removed. From there, clients can prepare it as they would rice—1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water. Mix the quinoa and water together in an uncovered pot, bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff it with a fork then serve.
Millet is a group of small seedlike grains that grow in arid, unfertile environments. It’s believed to have originated in North Africa, specifically Ethiopia, where it has been consumed since prehistoric times. Millet was introduced to the United States in the 19th century. It doesn’t contain gluten, so individuals who have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive can eat it.
Millet is a good source of manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium and contains niacin, folic acid, and vitamin B6. It also contains about 4 g of protein per 1/2 cup.
It can be used in place of rice, and its texture changes depending on the cooking method. Simmer 1 cup of millet in 21/2 cups of water. If left alone while cooking, fluffy grains similar to rice will result. If it’s stirred frequently and extra water is added, it will develop a consistency similar to mashed potatoes. Millet takes about 25 minutes to cook.
Buckwheat is native to northern Europe and Asia. From the 10th through 13th centuries, it was widely cultivated in China. It was introduced to Europe and Russia in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the Dutch brought it to the United States in the 17th century.
While many people think buckwheat is a cereal grain, it’s actually a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel, making it suitable for people sensitive to wheat or other gluten-containing grains. Buckwheat contains various flavonoids, such as rutin, that help lower blood lipids. It’s a good source of magnesium, with 20% of the Daily Value found in 1 cup. It also contains all eight essential amino acids.
Products such as soba noodles and flour-based pancakes contain a processed form of buckwheat. Buckwheat groats are the intact version with the best nutrient profile. For raw buckwheat groats, toasting is highly recommended to give them a pleasant, nutty taste. Clients can buy buckwheat groats pretoasted, in which case they’re labeled as kasha.
To toast buckwheat groats, place them in a dry pan over medium heat and stir for 5 minutes until browned. To cook, use 2 cups of water to 1 cup of groats or kasha and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until tender. Untoasted buckwheat takes 20 to 30 minutes to cook; kasha takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
Knowing the differences between intact grains and processed whole grains is important for dietitians when recommending them to clients and patients or even preparing them for their own families. Learning about the different processing methods also is an important step for ensuring clients get the grains that pack the highest nutrient profile.
— Melinda Lund, MS, RD, is a freelance nutrition writer and a medical nutrition therapist with Mercy Integrative Medicine in Springfield, Missouri.
Warm Coconut Millet Porridge
Serves 2 to 4
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (If you use sweetened almond milk, lower the amount of the optional honey and maple syrup)
3/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp to 1 1/2 T raw honey (optional)
2 tsp to 1 1/2 T Grade A maple syrup (optional)
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
2 cups cooked millet*
3 T unsweetened flaked coconut
2 T chopped pistachios, almonds, or walnuts (optional)
2 T toasted unsweetened flaked coconut (optional)
1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together almond milk, coconut milk, vanilla, honey, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom. Stir in millet and coconut flakes, breaking up any clumps of the millet.
2. Bring mixture to a boil using medium heat and lower to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, breaking up any remaining clumps of millet, until thickened.
3. Remove from heat and serve with pistachios and toasted coconut flakes, if desired.
* Cook millet in a ratio of 1 part millet to 2 1/2 parts water for about 30 minutes.
Nutrient Analysis per serving (based on 4 servings)
Calories: 286; Protein: 5 g; Carbohydrate: 32 g; Fiber: 3 g; Total fat: 16 g; Sat fat: 12 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 127 mg
— Recipe used with permission from Pamela Salzman (http://pamelasalzman.com/warm-coconut-millet-porridge-recipe)
Quinoa and Black Beans
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Two 15-oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and sauté until lightly browned.
2. Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with vegetable broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.
3. Stir frozen corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans and cilantro and serve.
Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 153; Protein: 8 g; Carbohydrate: 28 g; Fiber: 8 g; Total fat: 2 g; Sat fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 517 mg
— Recipe used with permission from AllRecipes.com