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 Foods: Grains 

In review, the grain foods represent the bulk of the world’s food supply, with wheat, rice, and corn being the three top crops. Whole grains are rich in energy-generating starch and complex carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, and lots of minerals. Each kernel of grain needs to have all of its parts intact to stay alive, or to keep the potential of life, which it can maintain for many years, perhaps hundreds or even thousands. Once the outer shell is disrupted or the grain is refined, it will slowly decay. But if nourished with water, sun, and good soil, it will generate new life and provide much nourishment for our new life for generations.

Specific Grains

Amaranth Oats
Barley Quinoa
Buckwheat Rice
Corn Rye
Millet Wheat

Amaranth. Amaranth is a fairly new grain available in North American food stores (often pearled or polished), but is an ancient food to Central American cultures such as the Aztecs and Mayan Indians. This high-protein, high-iron grain can be cooked whole as a breakfast cereal or served along with vegetables or other foods for lunch or dinner. It is suggested to rinse first and then dry roast before cooking. Ideally, it is best used as a flour for baking, and can be found in breads, cookies, pastas, or tortillas. It is a substitute for wheat and other grains, though it is still a bit more expensive than the more common cereal grains. Besides iron and protein, amaranth is high in calcium, and it contains most of the B vitamins, as well as other minerals. Like most grains, amaranth is a good source of dietary fiber.

Barley . This glutenous grain is much used as cattle feed. It is also used to make beer and whiskey. As eaten by humans, barley is most commonly employed in making soups. Its gluten content gives it a pastalike consistency, and barley is a good heat-generating food. In ancient times, barley bread was very popular, especially in Egypt and the Far East. Barley grows well in cold climates, as do buckwheat and rye. Russia cultivates the most barley.

Sprouted barley is high in the sugar maltose, which can be extracted, and the remaining malt syrup can be used to make beer and to sweeten other foods. Barley water has been employed since ancient times for a variety of medicinal purposes.

Pearling is a refining process used to remove the barley’s bran covering. The pearled barley is easier to cook but has less nutrient content than the whole barley. This whole grain contains about 10–15 percent protein, with the remainder being carbohydrate. Niacin and folic acid are the best represented of the B vitamins, while magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and potassium are barley’s highest minerals.

Buckwheat. Buckwheat is not really a grass but a thistle plant that produces fragrant flowers, followed by the buckwheat groats, little fruits each covered by their own fibrous shell. Buckwheat does not have the bran and germ that characterize grains, but its flavor, consistency, and nutrient content are so much like those of the grains that it is essentially treated like one.

The use of the triangular buckwheat groats began in Russia and spread to the Orient and Western Europe, particularly as the mashed and cooked buckwheat dish called “kasha.” Buckwheat can be mixed with other grains, and buckwheat flour can be used to make pancakes and other baked goods. This grain variant is about 15–20 percent protein. It contains a good amount of fiber, an assortment of B vitamins, lots of potassium, and some iron, calcium, manganese, and phosphorus.

Corn . Though a true grain, corn is different from the other grains in that its kernels are larger and softer, and they can be eaten fresh, like a vegetable. Dried corn can be ground into a flour or used to grow the next generation of corn stalks. Corn is a real American grain, possibly the only one that originated here, and was used as a primary food by the native American Indians. Corn spread easily to Mexico and South America and has also been grown in Europe and, more recently, in the Eastern world. Corn production has increased greatly in the last century and is now approaching that of wheat and rice. Formerly, it was grown primarily in the southeastern and northwestern United States, but now its cultivation is fairly widespread.

Corn, or maize, has many uses. Eaten fresh, usually steamed or boiled, corn is a delicious summer and autumn treat. Popcorn is a very popular and fairly healthy snack food, low in calories. Its high-fiber content helps intestinal activity. Cornmeal or corn flour can be made into cornbread or corn tortillas. Young corn is high in oil, and corn oil is commonly used in cooking, especially in baked goods, and in margarines. The mash left after the oil is pressed is made into a polenta that is much like cornmeal. Polenta can be mixed with beans to increase the total protein content or with leafy greens to improve the vitamin and mineral content of the meal.

Corn itself is fairly rich in vitamin A. It is about 10–20 percent protein, though mostly carbohydrate. Fresh corn has some vitamin C, folic acid, and other B vitamins, lots of potassium and magnesium, and some iron, zinc, and selenium as well. Actually, much of the manufactured vitamin C in this country is extracted primarily from corn. Cornmeal and corn flour lose the vitamin C and some of the Bs, but the minerals are fairly well retained. Corn oil is usually rich in vitamin E. The niacin in corn is not easily available unless the cornmeal is specially prepared. The American Indians, who used corn as the staple in their diet, were able to prevent pellagra, the vitamin B3 deficiency disease, by pounding, soaking, and boiling the corn into a mineral ash (see Niacin discussion in Chapter 5). This sweet yellow grain, however, can provide a lot of nourishment, especially when combined properly with other foods.

Millet. Previously used here mainly as fodder and as birdfeed, millet, also known as sorghum, has recently become a more commonly eaten grain, though its food use goes back many thousands of years in China. A sweetener is extracted from the stalks of sorghum, and these stalks have also been used in making brooms. Millet is a nonglutenous grain. It is the most alkaline of the grains and thus is potentially the least congesting. It is tasty and a good nutrient grain, with nearly 15 percent protein, high amounts of fiber, good amounts of niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin, a little vitamin E, and particularly high amounts of iron, magnesium, and potassium. Millet is a warming grain, helping to heat the body in cold or rainy climates. It is a good winter grain and a healthy one to use more regularly.

Oats. Oats also have a growing role in feeding the world’s population. It is fourth among the grains in production, following wheat, rice, and corn. It, like wheat, is a gluten grain, and should be avoided by those sensitive to gluten. Its primary use has traditionally been as a breakfast cereal, as in oatmeal, or porridge, and more recently granola. Oats are a soft grain; when rolled and flattened, they cook fairly easily. The nutritional level of the oats is much less affected by this process than is the case with other types of grain refinement. The harder whole oats take longer to cook and are richer in flavor and chewier than rolled or “steelcut” oats.

Oats have a great many uses. They have been commonly fed to cattle. Oatmeal is one of the healthier breakfast cereals; its high amount of complex carbohydrate provides sustained energy. Rolled oats can also be toasted to make a fairly healthy granola. This cereal is often sweetened with honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, or malt syrup and may have raisins, seeds, or nuts added to it. It is a nourishing snack but definitely still a sweet treat and not a staple food. Oat flour can be used to make breads, oatmeal cookies, or biscuits. Oat bran is a good substitute for wheat bran, especially in those sensitive to wheat, and some preliminary research suggests that oat bran used regularly may help lower cholesterol levels. Recent cardiovascular research supports the use of oats and oat bran for heart health. In some ways, oats as an unrefined food are the most accepted whole grain in our American society. Oatmeal is the most available whole grain in restaurants across the United States.

Oats are about 10–15 percent protein and provide a source of fiber and a mixture of B vitamins. They have a modest level of folic acid, niacin, pyridoxine, and pantothenic acid, as well as decent amounts of iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, manganese, calcium, and copper. Fortified oat cereals have a higher vitamin A content than natural oats. However, they usually also contain more sodium, as do most processed foods.

Quinoa. Quinoa is another new grain on the American scene that, like amaranth, is native to Central America. It can be cooked in a main or side dish, or in soups and puddings, or used as a flour in baking. Rinse quinoa thoroughly before cooking since it has a saponin (soaplike) coating. Quinoa is a quick-cooking (20 minutes) whole grain and is high in protein, iron, and calcium, with a mix of the B vitamins and other minerals. It is still fairly expensive, and is available mainly in health food stores.

Rice. Rice is the second most highly consumed grain in the world; more than 200 million tons are produced each year. Rice is a staple food throughout much of Asia; in China, the same word, “fan,” is used for rice and for food. In the United States, rice use has increased greatly in the last quarter century with the greater acceptance of the Oriental philosophies. Macrobiotic diets and many natural food diets use whole, or “brown,” rice and its products as a main part of the diet. Also, the concerns over wheat allergy and sensitivity have brought forth many new rice-based products as substitutes.

The primary place of origin of rice is Southeast Asia, where an average of more than 200 pounds per person a year are eaten. India, China, Japan, and Vietnam are some of the major rice-consuming countries. Warmer climates with abundant water are ideal for rice growth. Larger crops are now being cultivated in California and the southern United States.

A number of varieties of rice are commonly available. Sweet rice is more glutenous or gelatinous than other varieties and is used mostly for desserts such as rice pudding. Long-and short-grain brown rice are also commonly available, with many varieties providing different flavors. Besides just being boiled to be eaten with vegetables, tofu, fish, and so on, rice can be popped and used as a breakfast cereal; cream of rice, another breakfast cereal, is made from ground rice. Rice cakes are becoming very popular and can be found in most stores. They are a low-calorie, low-sodium, low-cholesterol, high-fiber snack and may be eaten plain, with butter, or with nut butters. Rice flour can be used in breads, cookies, and often in baked goods, and more of these products are available now for people who are moving away from wheat. Several recent rice products that are very good include mochi, a hard cake made from sweet rice that can be baked into crunchy and tasty rice balls; rice-based ice creams (Rice Dream) and crackers; and Amazake, a rich and sweet rice drink or nectar. Amazake is a tasty and nourishing milk substitute for diet-restricted people. The almond variety is very tasty and high in calcium as well. Children may love all these products.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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