Have you ever noticed that the ingredient list some products say “whole grain” or “whole wheat” and others say “enriched white flour”? The way ingredients are advertised or listed on a package can be confusing but here’s what’s going on.
If we look inside a grain of wheat we see three distinct parts: outside (the bran), middle (the endosperm) and inside (the germ). The biggest part is the middle (84% of the weight) which is mostly protein and carbohydrate. When the wheat (and grains in general) are processed this is the part you get in your food – the white flour, white pasta, white rice – which is most of the weight of the grain. Wheat flour would then be “enriched” with a few nutrients. Sooo… what has been removed?
The outside covering of the grain (14% of the weight) has a huge share of nutrients compared to the rest of the kernel. It contains B vitamins and most of the fiber plus phosphorus, potassium, manganese, nitrogen, iodine, oxygen, magnesium, iron, sodium and more. Wow! The outside of the grain is packed with good things for us. The inside of the kernel (only 2% of the weight) is the embryo of the seed which contains various nutrients (including Vitamin E) plus fatty acids. When you purchase any product made with enriched flour or white flour such as bread, pasta, cereal, pretzels, rice cakes, cookies or crackers, you are getting processed grains and more than half of the value of those grains is gone… the grain has been radically changed. Oops! On the other hand, when you purchase something that says “whole grain” you get all three parts of the grain and all the great nutrition that it offers. Yes!
Whole grains are packed with nutrients and, as we know, they’re rightly called “the staff of life”. They are such unique foods… the seed is the fruit and the fruit is the seed. Interesting! Every culture and every type of cuisine has a prominent place for grains and we can take advantage of the great ideas from every one of them providing we use “whole grains”. Think about some of our choices… rice, noodles, pasta of every shape, tortillas, flatbreads and breads of all kinds.
We know that grinding grains into a powder (flour) means that we increase the calories that can be absorbed. That does not mean flour products are bad but we need to realize that grinding them makes them more calorie dense. Hmmm… I think I’ll limit the bread, pasta and tortillas that I eat.
By the way, “multi grain” doesn’t mean the food is healthier; it just means there are several grains in the food but they are not necessarily “whole grains”. Be wary of this term; check the ingredient list.
Enjoy your grains today. I’ve already had some oatmeal and there may be some rice for dinner… and just to clarify… that’s brown rice.