What Are Whole Grains?

Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and nutrients of the entire seed. A whole-grain kernel is composed of three parts: the germ, the bran and the endosperm.

In conventional grain processing (e.g. white flour), most of the bran and germ are removed, resulting in the loss of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. In addition to helping maintain a healthy body weight, these key nutrients can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, respiratory dysfunction, gout, osteoarthritis and certain types of cancers.

Whole-Grain-Group-Pic 500

What are the grains that are considered whole grains?

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Corn
  • Cornmeal
  • Couscous
  • Farro
  • Millet
  • Oats, groats
  • Oats, steel-cut
  • Oats, flaked
  • Oats, rolled
  • Popcorn
  • Quinoa
  • Rice, brown
  • Rice, wild
  • Rye
  • Teff
  • Triticale (rye-wheat cross)

Whole grains cannot be identified by color. Refined bread products may be dyed dark brown in order to make them appear healthier.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that if a grain kernel has been cracked, crushed or flaked, then the resulting seed must contain nearly the proportion of the original kernel to be called “whole grain.” In order to label food “whole-grain” at least 51 percent of the ingredients must be whole grains and must be low in fat. In addition, it is helpful to learn the names of various grains, and look for them in the ingredients list.

whole grain stamp

The Whole Grains Council has created an official packaging symbol called the Whole Grain Stamp that helps consumers find real whole grain products. The 100% Stamp assures you that food contains a full serving or more of whole grain in each labeled serving and that ALL the grain is whole grain.

A question that gets asked regularly is, “What is the difference between whole wheat and whole grain?” Whole wheat is one type of whole grain. So, all whole wheat foods are considered whole grain, but all whole grain foods are not whole wheat.

How can you add whole grains to your diet?

MAKE EASY SUBSTITUTIONS

  • Substitute half the white flour with whole wheat flour in regular recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes.
  • Replace one-third of the flour in a recipe with quick oats or old-fashioned oats.
  • Add half a cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice, or barley to bread stuffing.
  • Add half a cup of cooked wheat or rye berries, wild rice, brown rice, sorghum or barley to your favorite soup.
  • Use whole corn meal for corn cakes, corn breads and corn muffins.
  • Add three-quarters of a cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey in meatballs, burgers or meatloaf.
  • Stir a handful of rolled oats into yogurt.

TRY NEW FOODS

  • Make risotto, pilaf and other rice-like dishes with whole grains such as barley, brown rice, bulgur, millet, quinoa or Farro.
  • Try whole grain salads made with tabbouleh.
  • Buy whole grain pasta.
  • Look for whole grain breads, pita bread and English muffins.
  • Look for cereals made with grains like kamut, Kasha (buckwheat) or spelt.

Whole grains also make delicious casseroles and they can easily be substituted for processed ingredients in your recipes. One of my favorite grains to cook with is Farro.

Farro – sometimes called Emmer – is an ancient strain of wheat and a whole grain with a higher fiber and protein content than regular wheat and it is also rich in magnesium and B vitamins. It was one of the first cereals/grains domesticated in the Fertile Crescent. Centuries later, it served as the standard daily ration of the Roman legions. In Italy – and increasingly throughout the world – Farro is staging a comeback as a gourmet specialty. Farro flour is thought by some aficionados to make the best pasta.

whole grain farro

Baked Farro Risotto

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked farro
  • 1 cup marinara sauce, preferably homemade
  • 2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, plus extra for garnish
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions:

Soak the farro in water to cover overnight, as you would dried beans.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Coat a 1 1/2 quart baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat combine the olive oil and onion. Cook until the onions soften. Add the farro, stir until well-coated and cook for another minute or two. Add the tomato sauce and the broth. Bring just to a simmer, remove from the heat, and stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the farro mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the top with the oregano. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

Uncover the baking dish and sprinkle the top of the casserole with the remaining ¾ cup of Parmesan cheese. Return the dish to the oven until the top is brown and the farro is completely cooked, about 5 – 10 minutes more.

Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with oregano leaves, if desired.

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Author: Jovina Coughlin

Now that I am retired from the teaching profession, I have the time to write a blog Jovina Cooks Italian and share what I have learned about Italian cooking and culture. Read more at About Jovina Coughlin.

2 thoughts on “What Are Whole Grains?

  1. I’ve been eating whole grain for decades, but have never tried Farro. I love all the different textures whole grains add — when minimally processed. These days I try to maximize my use of veggies in everything. What veggie would you recommend adding?

  2. Any vegetable you like in risotto works with farro.
    Spinach, cauliflower and bell peppers work with the tomato sauce in the recipe above. You can leave out the tomato sauce and use 3 1/2 cups of broth and add broccoli, artichokes, mushrooms or butternut squash.

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