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In search of the whole-y grain.

Why are experts continually noodging us to "eat more whole grains"?

Countries where people eat more grains, vegetables, and other plant foods have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and obesity. That's why.

A grain-based diet is lower in fat, especially animal fat. And the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other plant constituents may also protect against disease.

Yet when it comes to grains, the standard American's notion of how much is enough-- a 3/4 cup side order of rice or a slice or two of bread--is way out of whack.

And there's another problem that keeps many people from eating more grains: No one ever explains what they are and how to eat them. Sure, you can get grains in your bread or breakfast cereal, and there's al-- ways pasta or rice for dinner. But is that all there is?

"Grains" also include amaranth, barley, buckwheat groats, bulgur, couscous, millet, quinoa, wheat berris, and wild rice, for starters.

What makes a grain a grain? Jane Brody explains in her Good Food Book:

"Grains are the seed-bearing fruits of grasses. Each kernel of grain has a "germ" or seed--as its core, surrounded by a storage packet of starch.

"The entire kernel is protected by a layer of bran and usually also by an outermost inedible layer called the hull."

Buckwheat and amaranth don't come from grasses, so, technically, they're fruits, not grains. But everybody (us included) calls them grains.


All grains are low in fat, cholesterol-free, and--at least before refining---a good source of fiber. But beyond those basics, nutrient levels vary.

So we rated the grains, giving cach a score by adding up its levels of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

We ignored the three B-vitamins---thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin--that are added to refined grains, because they're so prevalent in the food supply. Instead, we focused on nutrients that people are more likely to run short on: vitamin B-6, magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron, as well as fiber.

Here's a run-down of the "Top Ten Grains." (Small differences in scores--a few points--don't mean much.)

1. Quinoa (KEEN-wah). Score: 73. It was being cultivated by indians in the Andes of South America before Columbus was born. A modest serving (5 oz., cooked) supplies a fifth of the U.S. Recommended Dally Allowance (USRDA) for magnesium. It's also a good source of iron and copper. We found it for $2.45 a pound at a local food co-op--much cheaper than the $4.10 we had to shell out at our local health food store.

2. Amaranth. Score: 66. The seeds of this ancient plant are higher in protein than other grains. Amaranth, which is native to South America, gets a good score because it's high in magnesium and is a good source of fiber, iron, and copper. It'11 stay expensive (about $3.00 a pound), though, until more farmers grow it.

3. Buckwheat Groats. Score: 64. If you roast buckwheat before you boil it, you've got kasha. (Roasting keeps it from getting a sticky, porridge-like consistency.) Copper and magnesium are two of the best assets of this fiber-rich pseudo-grain.

4. Bulgur. Score: 60. This Middle Eastern grain is nothing more than wheat kernels ("berries") that have been steamed, dried, and cracked into small pieces.

Like any wheat, bulgur is a good source of magnesium and fiber--unless you buy a refined version. Look for a brown--not yellowish-color, preferably (for your pocketbook's sake) in a bulk bin, not a box.

5. Barley. Score: 59. In ancient Egypt, barley was used for food, jewelry, and currency. In the U .S. 90 percent goes to brew beer or feed animals. That's too bad, because even pearled (refined) barley is a good source of fiber, iron, and other nutrients. Check food co-ops for the brown, unpearled, whole grain version.

6. Wild Rice. Score: 58. No matter where you buy wild rice, you'll pay a premium. It's rare and difficult to grow. But it's got more zinc than any other grain, and will give you a good dose of magnesium, fiber, and vitamin B-6 to boot. Don't be impressed by those commercial "long grain and wild rice" mixtures. They're only about 10 percent wild rice.

7. Millet. Score: 53. Why should you eat birdseed? Magnesium and copper, for a start. It was good enough for Europeans during the Middle Ages, and is still used to make porridge in North Africa and roti (a flat bread) in India.

8. Brown Rice. Score: 51. The average Asian eats 400 pounds of rice a year--we average only about 10 pounds. Sadly, the Asians eat the refined, white version, even though the loss of thiamin causes a deficiency disease called beriberi.

Brown rice has less fiber than most whole grains, but it's still better than white. And, it's the only rice that has vitamin E. If you like your rice white, choose "converted" over instant or regular, and make sure it's "enriched." That means at least a few nutrients--thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron-- have been restored.

9. Triticale. Score: 47. A cross between wheat and rye, this hybrid's protein is more complete than that of either of its parent grains--or soybeans, for that matter. It's a good place to get fiber and magnesium. The whole kernels--if you can find them---can be cooked like wheat berries.

10. Wheat Berries. Score: 41.

The score is low compared to other grains. How can it be lower than bulgur, when bulgur is just steamed and cracked berries? Because you get less wheat berries than bulgur in the same-size serving, what with all that space between the berries. The extra bulk may help waist-watchers eat fewer calories, but the grain is still quite nutritious.


That's it. Of those grains that didn't make the Top Ten, couscous may surprise you. It's a refreshing change from rice or pasta, but, nutritionally, it's white bread--and not even enriched like pasta.

Two unusual grains-- kamut and spelt--also missed out. But that's probably because we couldn't find information on some of the nutrients that went into their scores.

Both have been around for a long time---spelt was grown in Mesopotamia and karnut in Egypt. Though kamut and spelt are relatives of wheat, some people say that they are well-tolerated by wheat'sensitive people. We can't vouch for it.

If you find pastas made only of these or other grains, assume that the nutrient content is comparable to that of the grain itself. You're more likely to find pastas made of several different flours, though. Ancient Harvest's Quinoa pasta, for example, is only 20 to 40 percent quinoa--the rest is corn.

(See p. 12 for recipes.)

The information for this article was compiled by Ingrid Van Tuinen.

Grains & Losses

We calculated a "score" for each grain by adding up its percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance USRDA) for five nutrients plus fiber. There is no USRDA for fiber, so we used the new Daily Value (DV)-- 25 grams--that will soon appear on food labels.

For example, a five-ounce serving of quinoa has 9 percent of the DV for fiber (9 points), and 20 percent of the USRDA for magnesium (20 points), 4 percent for vitamin B-6 (4 points), 8 percent for zinc (8 points), 14 percent for copper (14 points), and 18 percent for iron (18 points). That adds up to a score of 73.

We included potatoes and pastas for comparison. (Yes, pastas are made from grains, and they're quite healthy, but that's another article.) The ten grains with the highest scores are our "Best Bites."
Adapted from The Healing Foods
Cookbook (Rodale Press, 1991. To
order, see p. 14).
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 sweet red pepper, thinly
4 Italian tomatoes, diced
2 medium zucchini, thinly
2 lbs. grated Parmesan
2 lbs. minced fresh parsley
 ln a large nonstick frying
pan, combine the broth and
turmeric. Acid the pepper,
tomatoes, and zucchini. Cook
until the vegetables are crisp
-tender, about 5 minutes. Trans
-fer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle
with the cheese and parsley.
Serves 4.
Culories: 59 Sodium: 62 mg
Protein: 3 grams Fat: I gram
Carb: 9 grams (15% of calories)
Adapted from The Healing Foods
1 large onion, diced
1 lbs. olive oil
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. turineric
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups stock or water
1 large butternut squash,
 peeled and cubed
3 small turnips, sliced Into
 1/2" wedges
1 1/2 cups (215-oz. cans)
 chick-peas, drained and
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded
 and minced
 In a 4-quart pot, saute the
onions in the oil until tender,
about 5 minutes. Add the
ginger, turmeric, cinnamon,
pepper, and salt. Cook for
1 minute.
 Add the stock, squash, tur-
nips, drained chick-peas, rai-
sins, cilantro, and peppers.
Bring to a boil, lower the beat,
cover, and simmer for 35 min-
utes, or until the vegetables are
tender. Serves 4.
Calories: 285 Sodium: 527 mg
Protein: 10 grams Fat: 2 grams
Carb: 43 grams (6% of calories)
Adapted from New Recipes from
Moosewood Restaurant (Ten Speed
Press, 1987).
7 cups cooked (or canned
 and rinsed) black beans,
3 lbs. olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced or
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 cup chopped carrots
1 medium green pepper,
black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup orange Juice
2 medium tomatoes,
 In a large skillet, saute the
onions, garlic, and spices in the
oil until the onions are translu-
cent. Add the carrots and saute
for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the
green peppers and saute for
5 minutes more. Add the black
pepper, parsley, juice, and
tomatoes, and simmer until the
vegetables are tender.
 Combine the black beans
with the vegetable mixture.
Puree 2 to 3 cups of the bean-
vegetable mixture in the
blender with enough water to
make a smooth puree. Stir the
puree into the beans and sim
-mer for 10 minutes. Serves 6.
 Calories: 265 Sodium: 370 mg
 Protein: 5 grams Fat: 7 grams
 Carb: 19 grams (24% of calories)
COPYRIGHT 1993 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Brand-Name Comparison; includes related article; nutritional value of whole-grain foods
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:When bad ads happen to (mostly) good foods.
Next Article:Putting the squeeze on saturates.

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