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The Whole Wheat Debate: Understanding Grains

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The whole wheat debate…

Ok…. So my boyfriend and I were going through self-checkout at the local grocery store. He got to the huge bag of brown rice that I put in the cart when he wasn’t looking. Crap, I thought, here it comes. “What is this?” “Brown rice, really?” “You know the only difference is that the white rice is bleached, right?”

And I was stuck. I knew that this wasn’t the only difference, but heck if I could actually explain. All I knew was that whole grains were healthier than white ones, they just were! Luckily for me, I just had to whine for a couple of seconds and all was well … we were back out of the store brown rice and all. But it did make me wonder. Why is whole wheat healthier?? I should know these things!

I mean, why choose whole grains over other processed grains? And what’s the difference anyway? While we are at it, what’s the difference between whole grain and whole wheat? What’s a whole berry (sometimes listed in the ingredient list)? Also, what does wheat mean (as opposed to whole wheat)?

After much research:

Our bread, pasta, tortillas, baked goods, rice, etc. are all made from wheat (which is a grain) or other grains (such as oats, rye, barley, corn, rice, etc). A product, say a piece of bread, can be made from only wheat or it could be multi-grain (made using multiple types of grain, both oat and wheat for example). Now, there are different ways for these grains to be processed which will result in wheat flour (what we consider white, processed flour), whole wheat flour, whole grain flour, or sprouted grains (a whole other ball game, I’ll explain shortly).

It’s important to note that multi-grain does not mean whole grain, it just means it has multiple types of grain within the product but it has nothing to do with how the grains were actually processed (they could be whole grains or they may not be whole grains, this is when you want to check the ingredient list to look for the word whole in front of every wheat ingredient vs. white or wheat or enriched, etc.) Similarly, if a product states it ‘has whole grains’ it still may not be completely whole grain (it may be partially whole grain and partially non-whole grain). If a product says 100% whole grain (or 100% whole wheat), you are in the clear, but if in doubt this is, again, when to check the ingredient list. And again wheat is not whole wheat, if it was whole it would have the word whole in front of it.

So… the grains are either milled or sprouted. Milled is much more common. This just means it is ground (could be stone ground which was the original way of processing grains, or through a machine that now does this for us) into flour. During the milling process for regular wheat flour (white, processed, refined, flour) two important aspects of the grain are removed. These are the bran and germ, which contain many of the nutrients/vitamins/etc. Then these grains might be bleached white (ah ha, the aspect my boyfriend knew about) using chemicals. Then the grains may even be enriched (in other words some nutrients are added back into the grain, but still not with the same nutritional value as the whole grain – bran and germ included – would have). One of the reasons for processing grains in this way is shelf life, as these refined grains can last much longer since some of the natural oils in the grains have been removed with the bran and germ.

When whole grain or whole wheat flour is made, it is milled using all aspects of the grain, the entire or whole grain. Another thing to note here is that with the extra fiber and the makeup of a whole grain, our body processes this slower which prevents spikes in blood sugar (which we all know results in crashes, which result in craving more). So all of this is helpful for our heart, blood pressure, weight management, etc.

For those that can’t stand the taste of whole grain. It doesn’t all taste the same! There are many different types of grains (here’s one list: http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whole-grains-a-to-z). And there are even different types of wheat (by the way, a wheat berry is the whole completely unprocessed form of wheat, though there are different types). There is white whole wheat for example (wasn’t as commonly used in the US but is now being picked up a bit more) that has a milder taste but is still whole wheat. Different grains and different types of wheat have varying levels of nutritional value, however. But it is still always safe to say that the wholer our grains are, and the less they have been processed, the healthier they are for our bodies and the more nutritional value we gain from them.

Lastly, grains may be sprouted instead of milled. This is when the whole grains are soaked in water to be sprouted. The benefit here is that in whole grains that have been milled, there are nutrients that our body won’t be able to digest, but sprouted grains are broken down in a way that allows our body to more easily digest and absorb the grain and nutrients within. Honestly, I see now that I may have another blog on my hands in regards to these sprouted grains, but for more information right now, I found this website very easy to understand: http://www.foodforlife.com/what-are-sprouted-grain-breads.htm.

Whew… so take that and eat it boyfriend!! Oh wait, we have already switched completely over to all whole grains. Even having whole grain pancakes and turkey bacon with pure maple syrup tonight. YUM YUM!

Here are a list of websites that helped me in my research : )…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheatberry

http://vegetarian.about.com/od/diningouttravel/g/What-Are-Wheat-Berries.htm

http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2009/02/24/meet-this-grain-wheat-berries/

http://www.foodforlife.com/what-are-sprouted-grain-breads.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprouted_bread

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-6318/Whole-Wheat-vs-Sprouted-Grain-Bread.html

http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/multigrain-vs-whole-wheat-whats-the-difference.html#b

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/multigrain/AN02047

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/whole-wheat-vs-durum-wheat-vs-stone-ground-4024.html

http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whole-white-wheat-faq

http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/white-bread-vs-wheat-bread/

http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/grains.html

http://www.diffen.com/difference/Whole_Grain_vs_Whole_Wheat

http://askville.amazon.com/special-stone-ground-wheat/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=669640

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2 thoughts on “The Whole Wheat Debate: Understanding Grains

  1. I thought this was a good read..it’s cool to understand what whole wheats are..this is a great idea to blog for sure

  2. I miss your BLOGS!! you are neglecting your readers!! Especially your number 1 fan!!!! 🙂

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