The Whole Story On Whole Grains

by Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

Whole grains are good for the whole body, but what exactly makes a grain whole? And what happens to grains, nutritionally-speaking, when they are refined and no longer whole?

A whole grain contains all three parts of the original grain kernal—the bran, the germ and the endosperm. During the refining or milling process, the bran and the germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm behind. This process gives the grain a softer texture and extends its shelf-life, but milling also removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins, leaving refined grains less nutritious than whole grains.

Whole grains provide energy, keep your digestive system running well, reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers, reduce your risk of having a baby with birth defects, maintain nerve and muscle cells and keep your immune system healthy so that your body can defend itself against illness.

Identifying whole grains can be difficult because food manufactures use tricks to try to fool you into thinking certain food products are whole-grain, when, in fact, they are not. Don’t be fooled by the color of grain products—just because a type of bread is brown in color doesn’t indicate that it’s a whole grain. Often, food coloring has been added to give it a brown color. Also, don’t let a fancy name trick you. Breads labeled “multigrain,” “100% wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “seven grain,” “stone-ground,” or “bran” are often not whole grains at all.

So how can you be sure you’re eating whole grains? You must check the ingredient list. Choose grain products that list a whole grain as the first ingredient on the ingredient list. Examples of whole grains are: brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, graham flour, millet, oatmeal or whole oats, popcorn, quinoa, whole grain barley, whole grain cornmeal, whole grain corn, whole grain flour, whole rye, whole wheat and wild rice.

Now that you’re a whole-grains expert, try this delicious recipe below:

Golden Sunshine Quinoa Salad (serves 6)

2 cups quinoa
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped golden raisins
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tsp grated orange peel
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin
1 cucumber, peeled, halved,
seeded & chopped
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
salt & pepper to taste

1) Rinse quinoa in fine mesh sieve until water runs clear. Bring broth to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add quinoa, return to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, simmer until quinoa is fully expanded, about 20-25 minutes. Uncover, fluff with fork, set aside to cool.
2) Place cooled quinoa in large bowl. Add scallions, raisins, rice vinegar, orange juice and zest, olive oil, cumin, cucumber, parsley/cilantro. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and refrigerate until cold, and serve.

For more information on nutrition, visit online at www.operationfoodsearch.org.