A patient recently asked me about whole grains. “What are they and why should I eat them?” she asked. You might be missing an opportunity to enhance your nutritional status if you skip the whole grains in your diet.
All grains begin life as a whole grain, the way they are grown in the field. We eat the seeds, both the “meat” of each seed and its papery chaff called the bran. The parent plant ensures that the next generation has all the nutrition it needs to germinate and grow, packed into the meaty part of the seed. Therefore, the seeds of any plant are the nutritional powerhouses.
When grain seeds are processed for human consumption, they start to differ from their original form. The more processed they are, the less they resemble their appearance right out of the field. At harvest time, seeds contain carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals. Not only does the appearance of the grain change with processing, but the nutritional value changes as well. A highly processed grain, like that found in a pastry made with white flour, has very little of the grain’s nutrition left in it.
Only about 10-15% of the grains found on grocery shelves are whole grains. Read labels and look for whole grains in breads, cereals, and pastas. Shop at health food stores or at the farmer’s market, looking for grains that you can actually recognize. You know you’re getting all of the plant’s nutrients when you eat the whole grain.
--Dr. Kate Kennedy