It’s hardly a secret that whole grain foods are much healthier than refined grains. For centuries, only the wealthy ate “white” foods while the peasants and poorer folks ate whole grains. Lucky peasants. They got the fiber, minerals and vitamins while the rich folks ate polished grains. But even today, most people prefer ‘refined’ grains, so how can you get your family to eat more grains and how can you store them safely and choose wisely? Glad you asked! Here are 10 helpful tips.
What Are “Whole Grains”?
Following is the official definition of whole grains, approved and endorsed by the Whole Grains Council in May 2004:
Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.
This definition means that 100% of the original kernel – all of the bran, germ, and endosperm – must be present to qualify as a whole grain.
What You Need To Know About Whole Grains
Now that we know what they are, how can we use these nuclear powerhouses of health and nutrition?
1. Reading labels is a must. Lots of products are labelled “enriched” which is rather ironic since manufacturers will remove dozens of good things and add back one or two and slap the enriched label on the bag or box. Don’t fall for this nonsense.
2. Seek out the word “whole“. You will find the ‘whole grain’ label from the Whole Grains Council on many products but just because it’s not there does NOT mean the grains aren’t whole. Ask questions.As mentioned in the infograph above, “100% wheat” means nothing because the wheat may be – probably is – refined.
3. Do whatever you can to get your kids (and hubby, too) to eat whole grain foods. For instance, add whole grains like amaranth, barley or quinoa to soups to make them thicker. Nobody will know the difference.
4. Fiber is critical and sadly lacking in the diets of most first world countries. The minimum requirement per day is 30 grams – but we think more is better. Note to yourself: don’t drastically increase your fiber all at once or you might have some temporary gastric problems.
5. Can’t handle gluten? There are lots of whole grain alternatives these days that contain no gluten. In fact, my favorite pasta is made of quinoa, believe it or not.
6. Because whole grains are “live” foods they will spoil easily. When I taught gifted 7th grade students we used to experiment using crappy Wonder bread and a live slice of bread. We’d dampen them a bit and leave them exposed to the air. In a short time bacteria would be all over the whole grain bread but the Wonder bread could sit there until the next ice age and nothing would ever happen. Of course, the point wasn’t to eat moldy bread but simply to show that the whole grain slice was alive and thus of benefit to the human body.
7. Bugs are smarter than people when it comes to food choices so they love whole grains. Disappoint them by protecting your grain products.
8. Don’t go crazy buying whole grain foods just because they’re on sale. They may spoil before you get to them. Yeah, I know, it’s a lot more trouble – but how much do you value your health.
9. Whole grains are loaded with B vitamins, such as brain-healthy folic acid. The B vitamins have so many health benefits that entire books are written just on these powerful substances. Dr. Mercola, in his fascinating article How B Vitamins Improve Brain Health, Cognition, Psychiatric Problems and Mood Disorders, claims that B vitamins will aid with serious disorders like schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, general psychosis, anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
10. The storage tip on the infograph above is exactly right: storing bread (for example) in the refrigerator does cause it to dry out faster. However, since I love and adore toast, I don’t care. And I do store all of my grains in the freezer.
11. Because they’re alive, whole grain foods won’t store as long as the not-so-alive ones. But that’s good for reasons already mentioned.