Chewing it over
People have been eating whole grains for more than 17,000 years – they picked seeds, rubbed off the husks and chewed the kernels raw or boiled them in water.
Egyptians used to bury mummies with necklaces made from barley, and in 1324 King Edward II of England set the standard for the measurement - making the ‘inch’ equal to ‘three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end-to-end lengthwise’.
A whole lot of grains
One bushel of wheat contains around a million individual whole grain kernels.
War on whole grain
Amaranth is a whole grain that was incredibly important to the Aztecs. So when the Spanish invaded, their leader, Cortez, tried to destroy the Aztecs by not allowing them to grow it – anyone caught was put to death!
Tut, tut ...
Khorasan grain is a wheat variety that was brought to the US as a souvenir from an Egyptian tomb - it was sold as ‘King Tut’s Wheat’. Now known as kamut, an ancient Egyptian word for wheat, this rich, buttery-tasting wheat is certified organic.
Rice in disguise
Wild rice isn’t really rice at all – it’s the seed of an aquatic grass originally grown by Native American tribes. It has a strong flavour and is quite expensive so it’s usually mixed with other types of rice.
Wheat is the most widely grown cereal grain. It’s grown on over 17 per cent of the total cultivated land in the world, and is the staple food for 35 per cent of the world’s population. It provides more calories and protein in the world’s diet than any other crop.
Pop goes the kernel!
Popcorn is simply a puffed-up whole grain. It’s made from a special type of corn called ‘zea mays everta’ – the only type of corn that can ‘pop’. Try popping your own corn at home with the kids – great fun!
Food of goods and kings
In Asia, the Amaranth grain is known as ‘king seed’ and ‘seed sent by God’.
Quinoa, pronounced ‘keen-wa’, is a whole grain that was highly prized by the ancient Incas – they called it ‘gold of the Incas’.
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Two things to remember: • Look for food labels where the word 'whole' appears in front of the name of the grain, like “whole wheat” or “wholemeal bread”. • For foods with more than one ingredient, make sure whole grain is listed towards the top of the ingredients list. The further up the list it is, the more whole grain has been used in the recipe. And look out for the percentage of whole grain. You should find this in the ingredients list too.
A ‘whole’ grain has more nutrients than a ‘refined’ grain, because all parts of the grain are retained – kernel, bran, endosperm and germ – along with their fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. But most of the bran and germ are removed when producing refined grains. Whole grains therefore contain more nutrients than refined grains.
The general name for proteins found in cereal grains such as wheat. It holds the food together, like a ‘glue’, and gives dough its elasticity.
Keep it simple: make grains the base of your diet and choose whole grains over refined grains wherever possible. U.S Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 3 servings (48g) a day. So, whenever you look for breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, rice or flour to cook at home, look for the word “whole”, ideally among the first ingredients in the list.
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