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 Foods: Grains 
 
The grains are the most commonly consumed foods worldwide. Wheat, rice, and corn, in that order, are the three largest crops. They are also some of the oldest foods. Knowledge of their use goes back over 10,000 years. Grains are the main human fuel and are a good source of complex carbohydrate, which is slower burning and provides more sustained energy than the simple sugars. These rich sources of starch and fiber are also the cheapest caloric supply for the world masses. The whole (unprocessed) grains provide a healthy amount of B vitamins, vitamin E, and many minerals.

The grains, often known as the “cereal” grains, are the seeds of various grasses. There are three primary parts to each kernel, or seed, of the grains—the central core, or endosperm, which is about 80–85 percent of the grain; the germ and future sprout, about 3 percent; and the bran covering of the grain, approximately 15 percent of the entire kernel. The endosperm, the bulk of the grain, is composed mainly of starch (and some protein) for energy to nourish the future seed. It has the nutrients to help the seed, and we humans, to grow. Though the major portion of the grain, however, it has less of the B vitamins and minerals than the germ and bran coverings, and less fiber as well. So when a grain is refined, most of these nutrients are lost along with the outer layers. The endosperm of wheat, for example, is what is contained in white flour.

The germ is only a small part of the grain, though the most essential part. It is the little embryo at the base of the kernel that is the future life. The rest of the grain is there to serve the germ; the coverings protect it, and the endosperm nourishes it in its new life. The germ actually is the part that grows, sprouts out through the bran covers when moisture and the sun bathe it. It will grow into leaves and continue as the roots go into the soil to gather more moisture and nutrients for continued growth. The germ is also the most concentrated part of the grain in nutrients. It contains protein, oils, and many vitamins and minerals. The germ is high in the B vitamins, particularly thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and pyridoxine. Magnesium, zinc, potassium, and iron are some of the minerals contained in this part of the grain. Wheat germ particularly is high in vitamin E, and wheat germ oil is one of the richest sources. When the grain is broken apart, as in making flour, it is the germ content of the whole wheat flour that is less stable because of potential oxidation of the oils, that is a major reason for the wide use of white flour, which is devoid of the nutrient-rich wheat germ.

The bran of the grain consists of several protective coverings, which add most of the fiber and much of the nutrients as well. These include the B vitamins and some minerals, especially zinc. The outermost layers of the bran are mainly indigestible cellulose fiber and are not really high in nutrients. These layers also come off most grains more easily than the deeper layers, which contain more of the nutrients. Soft milling or hand milling can clean these outermost coverings and improve the digestibility and utilization of the protein and nutrients from the grain.

Another advantage in removing these outer bran coverings is that they also contain most of the phytic acid present in the grains. From our discussion on minerals, we learned that phytic acid can bind minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium in the gut and carry them out through the intestines so that they are not assimilated and utilized. This is not very helpful in people who are not obtaining sufficient nutrients, such as the elderly or younger people on poor diets. Even though bran, usually wheat or sometimes oat bran, is used by many people to add fiber content to the diet to help reduce or prevent constipation, and is known to reduce risks of colon and rectal cancer, I do not recommend its regular, long-term use because of the potential mineral depletion. Rather, I suggest eating more fiber-containing foods, such as the whole grains, vegetables, and most fresh fruits, plus drinking more water. Examples of other high-fiber foods include miller’s bran, with about 40 percent fiber; high-fiber cereals, which may contain up to 30 percent fiber; and whole wheat bread, with about 10 percent fiber. This, particularly the use of high-fiber, whole foods, is overall a more healthful approach to bowel care, cancer prevention, and general nutrition.

Grains are the most basic whole foods of the Earth. The seeds of these grasses, or cereal grains, are a good source of complex carbohydrate, calories, energy, and fiber and a light source of protein. Vitamins B1, B2, and B3 are the B vitamins most plentifully found in grains. Most grains are relatively low in vitamins A and C; however, these are prevalent the vegetables, which go well with grains at meals. Vitamin E is found in the germ of the grain. The whole grains are rich in many minerals, especially magnesium, zinc, iron, and potassium, though calcium, phosphorus, and copper are often present. Rice and wheat are very good sources of hard-to-find selenium.


The fiber content of the whole grains is probably the biggest difference between the natural, or primitive, diet and the industrial, or Westernized, diet, and likely a big difference between poor health and good health.


The native diet averages several times more fiber than the modern, more refined way of eating. And lack of fiber may likely be the most significant cause in the advance of our chronic, serious, deadly diseases.

Medical research has shown that a low-fiber diet correlates with many diseases, and, conversely, an increase in fiber can reduce the risk of those same diseases. The increase in dietary fat and refined flours cannot easily be separated from the lowered dietary fiber, and all of these factors probably contribute to symptoms and diseases such as colon cancer (and possibly other cancers), constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, gallstones and gall bladder problems, high cholesterol, hypertensive heart disease, ulcers, varicose veins, be discovered. As the fiber coverings of the grain are its vital life protection, the fiber content of our diet may protect us from many common problems. Just keeping our bowels moving regularly is an important daily step toward health. Eating more whole grains and vegetables as the mainstay of our diet is the best way to approach the fiber issue.

There are two main aspects to the topic of protein in the grains. The first is that they do not contain “complete proteins.” This is a relative term since they contain all the essential amino acids, but the proportion of lysine is often low. In the legume section, we mentioned that most beans have a good level of lysine but are low in methionine. So when we eat the grains and legumes together, they complement each other and provide us with good levels of all the essential amino acids. Most cultures in the world have learned this important balance, sometimes painfully through deficiency diseases from not combining these foods. Recent thinking suggests that on the short term, such as a meal, this is not absolutely necessary, but over the Day we need to get this variety of foods to maintain protein balance.

The second aspect of grain protein is that much of it is as gluten. Gluten is a protein-carbohydrate mixture that is contained in wheat, oats, barley, and rye. These glutenous grains tend to have a higher protein content than the nonglutenous ones, such as millet, corn, rice, and buckwheat. Some people have a sensitivity to gluten. This is most often intestinal, though a general allergy, most commonly to wheat or oats, may involve the body’s interaction with the gluten protein. Celiac disease (a type of malabsorption) may in part be generated by an inability to handle gluten grains. Many intestinal symptoms, weight loss, and anemia may result. Usually, symptoms can be alleviated by avoiding the gluten grains and substituting others, such as corn, rice, and millet. However, certain nutritional deficiencies, psychological factors, and other aspects of diet, such as protein-fat ratios, may contribute as well to these intestinal symptoms of celiac disease.


Grain Allergenicity

Wheat most common
Oats
Rye
Corn
Barley
Rice
Buckwheat
Millet
Amaranth
Quinoa least common


Grains, though, are consumed without problems by most of the world’s population. They are very versatile foods and are considered the “staff of life,” a term often given to breads. Breads, the heated baked paste (flour) made from the grains, are in some form part of the diet of all populations in the world. From hand milling to using large machinery, breaking down the whole grains into fine powder, or flour, is the beginning process in making all kinds of edibles, such as breads, crackers, tortillas, cereals, pastas, pastries, and cookies. Wheat, of course, is the most commonly used grain, and most breads of the world, especially in our culture, contain wheat or refined wheat flour as the main ingredient. In 1977, it was estimated that nearly one-third of the world’s population obtained at least half of their nutrition from wheat—that is, wheat was the main food in their diets. It is a good overall food, especially the whole wheat, but it must be balanced with other nutrients, protein, vitamin A, and vitamin C, for example, all of which may be consumed in amounts insufficient to sustain health. Another concern, especially in Western cultures, is that many people, children in particular, obtain many of their grains from packaged cereals and refined flour breads, which provide even less nutrition than the whole grain. And those are all essential to human health. Refined white flour contains about 75 percent of the whole wheat kernels but less than half of their nutrients.

Eating too much of refined grain products also increases consumption of the toxic mineral cadmium in relationship to zinc, as zinc is lost in the outer layers and cadmium, when it is present, is contained in the internal kernel, and so can lead to cadmium toxicity problems. (See discussion of Zinc and Cadmium in Chapter 6, Minerals .)

Here are a few suggestions for using the grains and their by-products. First, when using whole grain flours, it is best to refrigerate them so they do not rancidify. This will greatly increase their longevity. Also, most people are not allergic to whole grains, so these more wholesome and nourishing foods may be a good source of fuel. In regard to the whole grain-allergy issue, some allergists and other practitioners theorize that allergies to food may in part be generated by early and excessive intake of processed foods, sugars, refined flours, and pasteurized, homogenized milk.

It is wise to eat more whole grain products, if for no other reason than the increased fiber and nutrients. A taste for the richer and nuttier flavor of whole grains can be reacquired as well. For children, starting them early on whole grain cereal and such foods as cream of wheat or rice, cooked brown rice or oats, can get them started with a healthy base. Many natural foods stores carry all kinds of new, wholesome breakfast cereals in place of many of the high-sugar packaged cereals, to which kids easily become addicted. Some of the better big cereal company brands are the puffed grains, Cheerios, the various grain Chex, Kix, Grape Nuts, and bran cereals. Avoiding sugary foods and refined foods in the early years will help children maintain their taste for natural foods.

(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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