Pain in the grain

How can you help customers eat more whole grains, since not many do?

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consumption of at least three servings of whole grains daily instead of refined grains, to reduce risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. One serving (one ounce) equals one slice of bread, one cup ready-to-eat cereal, or one-half cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta.

The number of daily servings of grains advised in the new Food Pyramid varies from three to 10 depending on an individual’s total calorie needs. For children, teenagers and adults, half of all grains consumed daily should be whole grains. The rest should be enriched grains. But recent federal food consumption surveys estimate the average American eats less than one serving of whole grains daily. About 45% of us eat none. How can you help your customers become more knowledgeable about grains, and work more grains into your menu?

Whole grains:  It starts with a definition of what a whole grain is and discussion of its benefits. A “whole grain” is the entire edible seed or kernel of any grain. The whole grain contains three parts: bran, endosperm and germ.

The bran is the outer layer which contains most of the fiber, B-vitamins and minerals. The inner endosperm consists mostly of complex carbohydrate (starch) and protein with some vitamins, minerals and fiber. The germ (seed) contains B-vitamins, minerals, fiber, polyunsaturated fat (essential linoleic acid) and Vitamin E.

Milling removes the bran and germ along with many nutrients and phytochemicals (plant substances) to produce refined grains (e.g., white flour). “Enriched” grain products must contain added thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, iron and folic acid, so they may contain more of these nutrients than whole grains (if they are not enriched).

Nutritional value: Whole grains are naturally low in sodium, fat and calories and contain no cholesterol. They are also rich in B-vitamins, Vitamin E and minerals including zinc, iron, calcium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and potassium.

The protein is considered incomplete because it lacks some essential amino acids. But, the protein quality can be increased by combining grains with beans, peanut butter, dairy, eggs or meats.

Health benefits: Whole grains contain insoluble fiber (e.g., wheat and corn bran) and soluble fiber (e.g., oatmeal, oat, barley and rice bran). Insoluble fiber may help lower risk for colon cancer and constipation. Soluble fiber may reduce high blood sugar and cholesterol to decrease risk for diabetes and heart disease.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows manufacturers of whole-grain foods to make the health claim that their products “may reduce risk for some cancers (e.g., breast, ovarian, colon, prostate, stomach) and heart disease.” Whole grains are filling and may also reduce risk for obesity. Health benefits may be related to the fiber, oligosaccharides (indigestible carbohydrate), antioxidants like selenium and Vitamin E, and phytochemicals including lignans, saponins, phenols, phytic acid, protease inhibitors and flavonoids.

Label reading: According to the FDA, “whole-grain” foods must contain “51% or more whole-grain ingredients by weight.” See if food labels contain the words “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain” as the first ingredient or as part of the food’s name.

In January 2005, the Whole Grains Council started putting a stamp on some “whole-grain” foods. An “excellent source” contains at least 16 grams whole-grain ingredients per serving, a “good source” provides at least 8 grams and “100% whole grain” contains no refined grains.

Don’t be fooled by these terms: enriched wheat (white) flour, unbleached, stone ground, 100% wheat (white bread), multigrain, semolina (durum wheat), rye, pumpernickel, natural or organic. These products may be made mostly from refined (white) flour. Dark breads can be colored with molasses, brown sugar or caramel and contain no whole grains. Oatmeal bread may contain mostly white flour and little oats.

“High fiber” breads can contain seeds and nuts or added bran, but not whole wheat flour. Choose breads with at least three grams of fiber per slice and cereals with at least five grams of fiber per serving.

Menu tips: Here are some suggestions for adding a variety of whole grains to menus:

  • Serve 100% whole-wheat breads, whole-grain cereals and whole-wheat pasta.
  • Substitute whole-wheat flour for up to half of the white flour in waffles, pancakes, muffins and other baked goods.
  • Add wheat or oat bran or wheat germ to cereals, yogurt, pancakes or quickbreads.
  • For snacks, offer lowfat popcorn, whole-wheat pretzels and graham crackers.Substitute brown or wild rice for white rice.
  • Use oats or crushed bran cereal as a topping for fish, poultry or casseroles.
  • Add barley, bulgur, cracked wheat or wild rice to poultry stuffing.
  • Substitute oat or wheat bran cereal or bulgur (soaked and drained) for some meat in meatloaf, meatballs, hamburgers, chili or casseroles.