In a recent post, I touched upon the benefits of REAL whole grains over their processed counterparts and shared a recipe for batch-cooking brown rice to help streamline meal prep. Today I thought I’d dig a little deeper into the world of whole grains, expanding beyond basic brown rice and sharing Part One of my REAL Whole Grains Guide. Understanding whole grains can be a challenge, but let’s start at the beginning and answer some simple, yet complicated questions:
Refined grains are grains that have been stripped of two (the bran and germ) of the three parts of the original intact grain. In the case of wheat, the remaining endosperm is then pulverized into flour. Refined grains are the most highly processed form of grains. Some examples include white bread, pasta, white rice, and pearled barley.
What’s the difference between intact, REAL whole grains and whole grains?
REAL (intact) whole grains are grains in their natural state, with all three parts of the grain still intact. Some examples of real whole grains and instructions on how to cook them can be found in my cooking guide at the bottom of this post. Whole grains are a slightly processed version of REAL whole grains. While they contain all three parts of the grain, it’s been pulverized into flour instead of left intact. Some examples include 100% whole wheat bread, pasta, or crackers.
Are whole grains healthy?
There’s some debate over whether or not grains (in any form) play a role in a healthy diet. For those who have a gluten allergy, grains that contain gluten are absolutely not healthy for them. Diets shouldn’t be one size fits all, and I think whole grains can be part of a healthy diet for many of us. It’s important, however, to understand the distinction between unprocessed, real whole grains, and whole-grain flours since we can benefit from choosing more intact grains.
If you view grains along a continuum, refined flours and grains definitely reside on the far, unhealthy end. In contrast, real (intact) whole grains are on the healthy end. While food products made with whole-grain flour still contain all three parts of the original grain, our bodies don’t have to work as hard to digest them. So they’re simply not as healthy as real (intact) whole grains. It’s important to acknowledge this key difference: when a grain is already processed for us—whether it’s highly processed or just slightly processed—it alters the calorie density and glycemic load.
What to know about the Whole Grain Stamp.
To find products made with whole grains, look for one of the Whole Grain Council stamps. As illustrated, the basic stamp means that the product contains at least 8g (1/2 serving) of whole grain, while the 100% stamp indicates that the product contains 16g (1 serving) of whole grains. However, the 100% stamp does not distinguish whether or not the grains in the product are in their natural form (with all three parts still intact) or pulverized into flour. But as noted above, our bodies do differentiate between these two versions. Looking at the ingredient list on a box with the 100% stamp will tell you more—the word “flour” indicates it is a whole grain versus a real, intact whole grain.
How are processed food companies trying to fool us with whole grains?
While the whole grain stamp can be helpful for finding products that contain whole grains, just because something is made with whole grains doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s important to take not only the amount of whole grains into consideration but all the other ingredients as well.
As Bruce knows all about from his previous career as a Big Food marketer, health claims like “made with whole grains” are used all the time to sell products that are not actually healthy. Case in point: Froot Loops®. Like many pre-sweetened kinds of cereal, Froot Loops® likes to feature health claims like “Made with Whole Grains” and “Good Source of Fiber.” But with 12g of sugar per 29g serving, Froot Loops® is over 40% sugar! Let’s face it, these cereals are anything but healthy!
Shopping for and Cooking 8 deliciously healthy REAL whole grains.
Real, intact whole grains can be found in most grocery stores in boxes and bags, but buying them in the bulk bin section can save you some money. To help you get started using more intact whole grains, here’s my guide to cooking 8 of my favorites:
While cooking REAL whole grains may take longer, the cooking time is “hands-off.” Please note that because there are many variables when cooking grains (gas versus electric stove-tops, whether you’ve soaked the grains, type of cookware, etc.) cooking times can vary—so definitely use this chart as a guide. The first couple of times you cook these grains, experiment a little, and figure out the exact cooking times that work best given your conditions. Also, although I personally haven’t used a rice cooker to cook grains, I know Bruce is a huge fan of this cooking method.
So grab some grains and get cooking! Why not challenge yourself to try one new real whole grain a week? And while you’re at it, feel free to double the recipe. The secret to enjoying more REAL whole grains is batch cooking. Cooked grains keep very well in the fridge or freezer, and having them on hand allows you to quickly “heat and eat” during the busy week! And make sure you stay tuned for Part Two of our understanding whole grains guide where we’ll share a variety of delicious ways you can easily incorporate more of these REAL whole grains into you and your family’s diet!
Kelly Harjes is a Certified Holistic Health Coach and founder of Appetite for Healthy Change™. Her mission is to inspire others to look and feel their best, feed their families well, and help improve our food system. To learn more about Kelly, check out Our Team Page!
Kitchen Tips and Resources from Bruce:
- Mason jars are great for storing bulk grains and so many other things in your kitchen. Also, they’re available in so many different sizes that you can choose exactly what you need depending on how much of a particular grain you use. So check out the selection on Amazon, Target, or your local hardware store.
- A fine, mesh strainer is a great kitchen accessory for so many tasks including washing your grains before cooking them.
- If you’re interested in trying out a rice cooker for cooking your grains, there are several models that might work depending on your preferences including this VitaClay 8-cup or this 20-cup Aroma model.