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Diane Miller

Grains: Harvest of good health

    Grains were so important to our ancestors that they believed each grain variety was a gift from the gods. Today grains are the most important food crop in the world. Even though the United States and Canada produce 20 percent of the world’s grain, their residents are definitely on the minus side when it comes to consuming their healthy share. Americans fall short of recommended grain consumption by about 30 percent.
    There’s good reason why grains are the largest section of MyPyramid. They are complex carbohydrates that contain protein and are low in fat. Most grains are loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as useful plant compounds called phytochemicals. Grains are especially good for older people who may have trouble getting all the nutrients they need.

Think “Whole”
    When buying foods such as cereal, bread and pasta, look for whole-grain varieties. A whole grain is the entire edible part of any grain. It is the seed from which other plants grow. The whole grain has three parts:
 - Bran makes up the outer layer. It is rich in B vitamins, trace minerals and fiber.
 - The inner part of the grain, the endosperm, contains most of the protein and carbohydrate, but only small amounts of vitamins and minerals. (White flour is made from endosperm.)
 - The germ is the very small part of the whole grain that sprouts a new plant. It has B vitamins, trace minerals and some protein.
    Phytochemicals can be found in the bran, endosperm and germ, depending on the grain variety.
    Don’t be fooled into thinking a product is made from whole grains because it is brown. The color can come from molasses. The label must say “whole grain” or whole wheat.”
    The fiber in whole grains may help reduce the risk of certain cancers and protect against adult or obesity-related (type 2) diabetes. In addition, the antioxidant vitamins and minerals in whole grains reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
    Of all the grains, oats have received the most publicity for their health benefits. The Food and Drug Administration has recognized oats as a food that can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. To reap the benefits of oats you need to consume the equivalent of 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal daily.
    So Many Grains..
    Here are some tips to help you identify whole-grain choices among the grain foods commonly eaten in this country:

Bread
    Bread that is called “whole-grain” is not required to be 100 percent whole grain. Check the ingredient label to make sure whole-grain flour is used in greater quantity than other flours. Whole-grain flour should be the first flour listed.
    Rice and Brown rice is the only whole-grain rice. Most pasta in this country is not Pasta whole-grain, but you can find it if you look. Ask your grocer to stock a  selection of basic whole-grain pastas.

Grains in the World
    Virtually every culture has its grain-related foods, such as the couscous of Morocco or barley from Poland and Russia. There are more than 40,000 types of rice. Exploring grains is a great way to learn more about various ethnic cuisines and add a variety to your diet at the same time.
    Look for these grains on restaurant menus and in specialty stores:
-  Spelt and ancient grain related to modern hybrid wheat, has a hazelnut flavor and is especially good in whole-grain breads and pastas.
 - Amaranth is actually an herb seed, not a cereal grain and was cultivated as far back as 700 AD. It is loaded with protein, calcium and iron.
 - Teff is a staple in Ethiopia used to make a flat bread called injera. It is the world’s smallest cereal grain.
    For more information on Summer food favorites, contact Diane at (912) 871-0504 or diane@uga.edu.

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