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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Whole Grains

We’ve all been there. It’s the place where diets are made or broken, a place of dread for small children (and some adults!), the place for bargains and great deals, a place where few men go alone: the grocery store. More specifically, the bread/carb/diet killer aisle. But with so many people advocating for the healthy effects of whole grains, what’s the deal? Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about them.

Let’s start with the basics. What is a whole grain? A whole grain is exactly what is says it is – the entire grain. A grain consists of three main parts: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. (It’s kind of like a chicken egg—the bran is the shell, the endosperm is the white, and the germ is the yolk.) When cereals, breads, and other products made from grains are created, they are typically refined in a factory (who wants to eat the stem?! Nobody!). But when they are refined, they lose essential parts of the entire grain, which means that they lose essential nutrients like Vitamin B, Vitamin E, zinc, selenium, copper, magnesium, and fiber.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dispel a few myths. First and foremost, whole grains are not the same as whole wheat. Whole wheat is a type of whole grain. Make sure you read the labels carefully before you buy! Secondly, eating rye products will not make you crazy. The disease associated with eating rye grains is called ergotism, and arises from a fungus on the rye plant. This fungus is not isolated to rye alone; it also grows on many other grains and happens by chance. This disease has been linked to the hallucinations experienced by “witches” during the Salem Witch Trials in the seventeenth century.

Finally, let’s talk healthy! What can whole grains do for you? Incorporating up to 2.5 servings of whole grains in your diet has been linked to increased heart health. Furthermore, whole grains lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, asthma, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and inflammatory diseases. Diets rich in whole grains can reduce the incidence of certain types of cancer. This is caused by phytochemicals, plant compounds that are not designated as nutrients that can protect cells from becoming damaged and cancerous.

So how can you choose whole grains? Look for labels that say specifically “whole grains!” Moreover, pick foods like oatmeal, whole-grain cereal, popcorn or whole-grain crackers instead of other snacks, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, and barley or wild rice soups. Make healthier choices for your body today—go whole grain!


Ergot of Rye


Whole Grains Council

Photo from Wikipedia

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