Nutrition News Great Grains Cover

Go With The Grains!


• What Are Complex Carbohydrates?

• Why Are They Important?

• What’s So Important About Fiber?

• Why Aren’t Whole Grains Considered “Processed”?

Some Grains Are Dangerous To Some People All Of The Time.

Look Inside And Find Out Why….

Nutrition News Great Grains Cover


Grains are the basis for over 3/4ths of the world’s food supply. Seventy-five percent of the world’s food supply is a tremendous amount of grain.

In the 1930s, Dr. Robert Runnels Williams, recognized for extracting vitamin B1 (thiamine) from rice polishings, commented:

“We commit a crime against nature when we eat the starch from the seed and throw away the mechanism necessary for the metabolism of that starch.”

Eat whole grains. That is what makes them wholesome.

Nutrition News Great Grains Cover

Go With The Grains! The Great Grains

Whole grains are sources of carbohydrates. There is a lot of concern about carbohydrate-laden diets.

Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, premature aging, and premature death are all associated with consistently eating large amounts of processed carbohydrates.

Processed carbohydrates are sugary, starchy foods such as chips, fries, cookies, and sodas. The sugars and starches in these kinds of foods are quickly turned to glucose (blood sugar) and released into our bloodstreams.

They have high glycemic index values. (See Glycemic Index below.) In brief, high blood sugar levels lead to high blood insulin levels, and, ultimately, to insulin resistance. These imbalances are irrefutably linked to degenerative disease.

However, whole grains are whole foods. They are the essence of the term “complex carbohydrates”. These are the carbohydrates that are good for you.

They contain the entire grain: the bran layer, endosperm, and germ. Besides their carbohydrate component, whole grains contain protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients as well.1

The Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index is a ranking of foods based on how fast they affect blood sugar (glucose) levels.

Carbohydrates that breakdown quickly are the highest on the index. Those that release glucose gradually, have low glycemic indices.

The basis of the index is a comparison of carbohydrates foods with either blood glucose itself or white bread.

In both cases, 100 is the standard.2 For more information about specific foods, try

High fiber content is an important advantage of whole grains. Nutrition scientists generally agree that dietary fiber helps reduce the onset and incidence of diabetes, irritable bowel disease, colon and rectal cancers, and hemorrhoids. High fiber content also helps maintain vascular health and low cholesterol levels, preventing heart disease.3

Although all grains require some cooking or minor processing to make them digestible for humans, cooked whole grains are not considered “processed”.

Because of their virtually unprocessed state, they digest slowly. This means that glucose (the basis of all carbohydrates) enters into the bloodstream slowly.

In this way, both glucose and insulin remain at healthy levels. One could become overweight from overeating whole grains, but insulin resistance and diabetes are unlikely.

Although most people tolerate grains well, for others some grains can be dangerous.4 Celiac disease (celiac sprue) describes a dangerous sensitivity to gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, oats, and rye). When people with celiac eat gluten, the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, hindering the absorption of nutrients. In addition, many people are simply allergic to wheat.

There are lots of grains besides wheat, and a number of these are also gluten free.

Gluten free grains include: quinoa, corn, millet, buckwheat (not a wheat), sorghum, amaranth, montina, teff, and wild rice. Most people can also tolerate brown and white rice (

Cooking Grains

Prepare whole grains ahead of time. Using a pan with a tight fitting lid, bring water to a boil, add the grain, and stir. Return the lid, bring back to boiling for 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the grain sit.

Do this at night and the grain will be cooked by morning. Several grains can be prepared simultaneously and refrigerated for use during the week. They do not freeze well.

Raw whole grains can be stored in dry, cool conditions for about a year. (Flours are should be used within several months of purchase. Their vitamin E content dissipates in about five days.)

A half cup (100 grams) of most raw grains ranges in calories from 340-389. The caloric difference in a cooked serving depends on the amount of water used for cooking.

Greater amounts of water equal fewer calories – and less sustenance. Most grains are cooked with double the volume of water to grain. (Exceptions are noted in the text.)​


Go With The Grains! The Great Grains


1 One of these is lignin, a group of compounds with anti-tumor and antioxidant properties.

Lignin is related to cellulose. It helps form the cell walls of plants and joins them together. Second only to cellulose, lignin is one of the most abundant organic polymers on Earth.

2 In Australia, food manufacturers are encouraged to label their products with glycemic index symbols, indicating a placement of low, medium, or high.

With the increase in obesity and diabetes in the USA, such a labeling procedure should be mandatory.

3 More in depth coverage of fiber is discussed in Nutrition News, “Nature Calls!”.

4 See Nutrition News, “Go Gluten Free!” for details.


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The Great Grains

Wheat, rice, corn (i.e., maize) and one surprise are the most consumed of all the grains. Each has a rich history.


WHEAT, the universal grain, is a primary staple food for over half the world’s population. First cultivated some 10,000 years ago, by 4000 BC, the Egyptians had evolved bread making into an art. During the Roman Empire, wheat cultivation spread throughout Europe. It later spread worldwide during the time of the British Empire.

An individual wheat grain is a wheatberry. Although tasty, wheatberries are seldom cooked whole but ground into flour for bread, cold cereals, pastas, etc.

Thousands of varieties of wheat are classified as winter, spring, or summer, and either hard or soft. Hard wheat has more gluten and is generally used for bread, while soft wheat is used for pastries.

Because it contains the whole kernel, including the bran and the germ, wholewheat flour is definitely nutritionally superior to enriched white flour.

White flour contains only the starchy endosperm. The inclusion of bran (the outer husk of the kernel), results in whole wheat flour having fewer calories – about 10 calories less per ounce than white flour.

The most nutritious part of the kernel is the germ. Wheatgerm has 24 grams of protein per 100 grams (3-1/2 ounces) and 230 calories, compared with whole wheat flour with 14 grams of protein and 312 calories.

Because of its high oil content, wheatgerm needs to be refrigerated. The glycemic index (GI) for whole wheat kernels averages 41.

However, when ground into flour, the carbs of whole wheat are more accessible, and whole wheat bread has an average GI of 71, similar to white bread, GI 70-85. For the best overall nutrition, choose baked goods with whole grains and low sugar.


RICE arrived in the US by accident in 1693 when a ship bound for Madagascar was waylaid at Charleston, SC. At the time, rice had already been the staple grain of Asia for thousands of years.

Today, an Asian may eat up to 400 pounds of rice annually, making rice the king of grains. (The average Westerner eats only about 20 pounds.)

The over 7000 varieties of rice can be categorized as long or short grained, brown or white. Brown rice has only its indigestible outer husks removed. The further milling or polishing to make white rice removes more layers with further loss of valuable nutrients.

In the late 1800s, the discovery of vitamin B1 (the first vitamin known) centered around polished rice and a sickness called beri-beri. Scientists made the connection between eating brown rice and maintaining health.

In the early 1900s, vitamin B1 (which prevents beri-beri) was isolated from rice polishings. This is the part of the rice that continues to be discarded when white rice is processed.

Converted Rice is an exception. It retains more nutrients than white rice because of the way it is processed. The GI of rice depends on the type: converted rice (i.e. Uncle Ben’s) is 44; brown rice averages 55; Basmati, 58; rice cakes and puffed rice cereal, 72; and instant white rice, 87.

Corn or Maize

CORN or MAIZE, native to the Americas, is thought to have originated as a spiky weed about 9,000 years ago.5

In Aztec Mexico, it was planted alongside roads so that no one would go hungry. By the time of Columbus, the Incas of Peru had hybridized over 200 types of maize – a remarkable plant breeding achievement.

Purchase stoneground corn meal. “De-germed” or “enriched” is not as nutritious. Corn on-the-cob is too sweet to be dried and used as meal. It is also lower in nutritional value. Popcorn, although useful as a low-calorie snack, is the least nutritious of the corns. Fresh sweet corn is about 55 on the GI, and whole grain cornmeal is 68.


SORGHUM is one of the least known grains discussed here. However, it is ranked as the third most important grain after wheat and rice in a worldwide United Nations survey. 

Eaten since prehistoric times, sorghum is nutritionally comparable to wheat but has a higher fat content. It is gluten free and is usually used as flour. Its GI is 77.

The Great Grains


5  What is called corn in the US is more properly known as maize. Early English settlers called maize “Indian corne,” corn being a general term for grain in England.


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The Not-A-Grain Grains

Several plants that are not grains produce gluten free foods similar to grains. These include buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, and wild rice.


The ancient BUCKWHEAT plant is native to Siberia and Manchuria. Botanically related to rhubarb, the crushed, hulled seeds are called groats. Toasted groats are known as kasha, and buckwheat noodles are called soba (GI 46). When ground into flour, the hardy, distinctive flavor of buckwheat can be enjoyed in pancakes, muffins, and biscuits.

Buckwheat is a nutritional powerhouse, containing a complete amino acid profile. It is equal to wheat in protein and is a good source of magnesium. It also contains rutin, a substance that strengthens capillaries, aiding circulation.

Rather than the usual two to one ratio, buckwheat is cooked with 4-5 cups water to one cup grain. Buckwheat is low in calories (72 for a half cup) and, at only 42-55, it’s moderate on the GI scale.


AMARANTH, used by the Aztecs, is currently popular and is available as cold cereal. Because its blood red blossoms retain their color even after the plant dies, its name means undying (Greek). Amaranth is high in protein, particularly lysine, an amino acid that is lacking in most grains.

With its distinctive peppery-spicy flavor, amaranth can be cooked as cereal, popped like popcorn, and ground into flour. Adding a little to any batter helps baked goods retain moisture and lightness.

The GI reported for amaranth ranges from 35-97, perhaps making it a poor choice for diabetics (,


QUINOA (keen’ wah) means “mother” in the Peruvian highlands. Related to spinach, it has gained popularity because of its delicious mild flavor and fluffy, crunchy texture.

Called “vegetarian caviar”, quinoa’s flavor resembles a mix of couscous and peanuts. It cooks in 15 minutes (4:1 water to grain), is easy to digest, very high in protein and lysine, and valued as a high energy food.

For nursing mothers, it is a powerful stimulant to milk flow. The GI for quinoa is 40-53.

Wild Rice

WILD RICE is botanically different from rice. Not the same genus as regular rice, it is the seed of an aquatic grass,

Zizania, indigenous to the Great Lakes. A part of the Native American harvest, it remains under some state and tribal laws in Minnesota, continuing to be hand harvested. The supply has been increased by growing it in man-made paddies (mainly in California) where mechanized harvesting is permitted.

Wild rice is very nutritious, containing twice as much protein as white rice and six times as much iron. It is far richer in B vitamins and contains 20 times as much riboflavin (B2). A half cup serving of wild rice contains 83 calories and is 55 on the GI.

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Oats, Rye, Millet, and Barley Grow

Ever wonder why OATS are the food of Scandinavians and Scots? Surprise! It grows there.

The four types of oats are steelcut, hulled, rolled, and instant. Steelcut and hulled are almost as nutritious as whole oats.

Delicious Scottish oatmeal is easily prepared in the let-it-sit manner described previously. “Old Fashioned” and quick cooking oats are as quickly and easily prepared on the stove.

We discourage the use of fancy, over-priced, over-packaged instants, which are often loaded with sugar, salt, and inedible additives.

Oats are higher in both protein and fat than other grains. As is widely known, their fiber component is cholesterol-lowering. Oats are especially high in inositol and have more thiamine (vitamin B1) than other cereals. Some people who are otherwise gluten intolerant can tolerate oats.

Milk and sugar can cause oatmeal to ferment in the stomach and lose much of its nutritional value. Rather, eat it lightly salted with a little butter or cold-pressed oil. Steel cut oats are about 40-55 on the GI; rolled oats, 70.


RYE was first cultivated by the Romans. By the Middle Ages, it had become the staple grain of Europe. Dark rye retains its popularity in northern and eastern Europe.

Nutritionally similar to wheat, since rye contains less gluten, it rises less and is heavier when baked. Dark rye flour contains more bran than light rye.

Whole grains (called groats) can be soaked and cooked like rice. If cracked with a rolling pin, they need less cooking time. At 34, rye is very low on the GI


MILLET is thought to be the first domesticated crop. It was a staple food in China even before the cultivation of rice. Still a staple in parts of Africa, India, and Asia, it is growing in popularity as a whole food.

Millet contains a good amino acid balance and has more iron than other grains. All millet is hulled. The outer casing is so hard that even the birds can’t crack it. It expands greatly when cooked. Cook it at 4 or 5 water to 1. Millet flour makes a tasty thickening agent, and will store for about two years. It is gluten free. The GI is 71.


BARLEY is a bona fide health food. Largely based on USDA findings, chicks fed a barley diet sustained cholesterol levels 40-60 percent lower than those fed corn.

Barley is high in the amino acid lysine. Hulled barley and barley flour are more nutritious than pearled barley.

Hulled barley makes a delicious, chewy hot cereal. Early Romans called gladiators hordearii, barley-eaters, and Babylonians used it to make a kind of beer they called boozah.

Malt powder comes from barley. The GI differs depending on form, with an average of 48.


BULGUR is an ancient variety of wheat. Grown predominantly in eastern Europe, the history of bulgar can be traced to Genghis Khan and the Old Testament.

Its seed structure is such that the grains retain the connection between germ and bran even in the steel milling process.

It is similar to wheat nutritionally, however, it is far less rich in calcium, containing less than 3 mgs. per 100 grams compared with 36 mgs in wheatberries.

Bulgur is often packaged parboiled to save cooking time. The GI is 46-55.


TRITICALE is a hybrid of wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale). Because crops of wheat and rye have been grown next to each other, hybrids have always occurred. However, those plants did not reproduce.

Then in the 1930s, Swedish scientists injected hybrid plants with an alkaloid from the crocus plant. This stimulated the hybrid to double its chromosomes, making reproduction possible.

Triticale has 33 percent more protein than wheat and a more usable amino acid balance. Although its fat content gives it 30 more calories per 100 grams than wheat, it is also richer in iron and potassium, and equal in calcium.

No GI was found for triticale, but it is included in various rye-based foods with low GI ratings.


SPELT, a species of wheat, has a 9000 year history of cultivation. Because it tolerates poor soils, it remains an alternative to common wheat. Largely ignored since the mid 20th century, it is again becoming popular.

It delivers optimum flavor and nutrients, and is highly digestible. The GI for whole grain spelt bread is 50-63; for white, 63-74.

Spelt and other wheat species (durum, emmer, einkorn, etc.) do contain gluten.


KAMUT is an ancient Egyptian grain and one of the few grains that has never been hybridized. With its rich, almost buttery flavor, it is among the best-tasting of the cereals. It is reportedly tolerated in small amounts by gluten sensitive individuals.

Kamut provides optimum flavor and nutrients, is highly digestible, and has a low allergenic profile. Kamut bread is found in health food stores. The GI is about 45.

A relatively new arrival on the health food scene is TEFF, Eragrostis tef.  Called “lovegrass,” teff is native to Ethiopia and Eritrea. It has very tiny seeds, which means it has a high fiber to carbohydrate ratio.

Some of teff’s carbs break down slowly, which may give it a low GI (not clearly calculated yet). Teff is rich in vitamin C and vitamins B-1, 2, 3, and 6.

Teff is reportedly gluten free.

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Related Resources

Each month, Nutrition News features three additional titles to support our main topic.

This month’s selections are

“Put Food On Your Table”, 

“Nature’s Magic”, and

“Go Gluten Free”.