Ingredient Statement: Grains
Grains, in one form or another, comprise a large percentage of American diets. US adults average close to seven servings of grains per day with only one of those coming in the form of whole grains
Quality and form are large determinants of a grain's health-promoting ability. (1)
Here are the guidelines we use when sourcing grains:
- Heirloom varietal
- Whole grain
- Minimally processed
We purchase local grains whenever possible, from purveyors like Champlain Valley Milling Corporation in Westport, NY and Farmer Ground Flour in Trumansburg, NY. We strive to purchase more heirloom varietals, like red fife wheat, to aid in our initiative to increase biodiversity, and seek out organically grown and non-GMO grains. We also utilize the above criteria for pseudo-grains like amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Whole grain consumption has been shown to play a role in preventing a myriad of conditions, including colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes (2-4). However, 95% of grains available for human consumption in our food system are refined (5). Research shows that refined and processed grain consumption contributes to elevated fasting insulin levels and likely contributes to the high incidence of type-2 diabetes in this country (6). Because processing removes the fibrous bran and the vitamin-rich germ of grains, refined grains lack key nutrients.
The way the food industry defines a whole grain is far from clear. The term “whole grain” is legally defined by the American Association of Cereal Chemists and the FDA as: "intact, ground, cracked or flaked fruit of the grain whose principal components, the starchy endosperm, germ and bran, are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain" (7). For whole foods such as millet, barley, and kamut, this definition clearly fits. But it starts to get murky for grains that have been processed.
As it relates to health, the less a grain is processed, the better. Take oatmeal, for instance. Though it fits the technical definition of a whole grain, instant oatmeal will be digested differently and raise blood sugar higher than intact, steel cut oats (8). Since instant oatmeal has been milled into smaller particles, it is digested at a quicker pace and thus increases blood sugar faster than less processed steel cut oats. Furthermore, grains and flours that have been stone ground are larger in particle size and will also be absorbed and converted to glucose at a slower rate than fine ground flours (9).
Consumers should beware terms such as “multigrain,” “12-grain,” or “enriched” when purchasing packaged grain products, as these terms do not indicate that the product is made with whole, intact grains. These descriptions indicate that a number of grains were used in the product, but refined, nutrient-depleted flour may still be utilized as a main ingredient. Look for “100% whole grain” in the name of any product to ensure you are indeed getting the nutritious bran and germ portions of the grain.
- Cleveland LE, Moshfegh AJ, Albertson AM, Goldman JD. Dietary intake of whole grains. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000;19(3):331S-338S.
- Slavin JL, Martini MC, Jacobs DR, Marquart L. Plausible mechanisms for the protectiveness of whole grains. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(suppl): 459S-463S.
- Newby PK, Maras J, Bakun P, et al. Intake of whole grains, refined grains, and cereal fiber measured with 7-d diet records and associations with risk factors for chronic disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86:1745-1753.
- Slavin J. Whole grains and human health. Nutr Research Rev. 2004;17.
- Jacobs DR, Meyer KA, Kushi LH, and Folsom AR. Is whole grain intake associated with reduced total and cause-specific death rates in older women? The Iowa Women’s Health Study. 1999;89:322-329.
- Ludwig D. Dietary glycemic index and obesity. J Nutr. 2000;130(2):280S-283S.
- American Association of Cereal Chemists International. AACC member agree on definition of whole grain (cited 2014 Dec 27). Available from http://www.aaccnet.org.news/pdfs/wgPR.pdf.
- Jonnalagadda SS, Harnack L, Liu RH, et al. Putting the whole grain puzzle together: health benefits associated with whole grains- summary of American society for nutrition 2010 satellite symposium. J Nutr. March 30, 2011; doi:10.3945/jn.110.132944.
- Jayasinghe MA, Ekanayake S, Nugegoda DB. Effect of different milling methods on glycaemic reponse of foods made with finger millet (Eucenea coracana) flour. Ceylon Med J. 2013;58(4):148-152.
This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.