Grains have been a part of the human diet for about 10,000 years and there are a variety of grains that form the staple diets of people in different parts of the world. In India grains contribute to about 60 to70 per cent of total food intake supplying about 70 per cent of the total energy requirements of most Indians.
Grains include cereals like rice, wheat, oats, corn and barley; millets like jowar, bajra, ragi (nachni), kodo millet (kodra or harik), little millet (warai), proso millet (varagu), barnyard millet (sanwa/ jhangora), foxtail millet (rala), job’s tears, etc, and pseudocereals like buckwheat (kuttu), amaranth (rajgira) and wild rice since they have a nutrient composition that is similar to cereals.
All grains are made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm that are covered by an inedible husk. The bran is the outer most layer of the grain and surrounds the endosperm and germ protecting the grain from sunlight, pests, water and disease. The germ contains the plant embryo and the endosperm supplies food for the growing seedling.
Nutritionally speaking, the bran is the major contributor of fibre and phytochemicals such as lignans, phytoestrogens, phenoliccompounds and phytic acid in a grain. The germ which is nestled inside the endosperm forms a minute fraction of the wholegrain and is rich in vitamins, minerals and unsaturated oils. The endosperm is made up of 50 to 75 per cent of starch and also contains protein and cell wall polymers. For a grain to be called a whole grain they must contain all three key parts of the grain and regardless of how a whole grain is processed,whole grain food products must deliver approximately the same relative proportions of bran, germ, and endospermas found in the original grain.
The advent of industrialised roller mills in the late19th century marked the entry of refined grains in our diet as a majority of the populations started consuming refined grain products leading to a significant decline in whole grain consumption. Even though, refining makes the grain easier to chew, digest and store, there is a price to be paid for refined grains as during the process of refining of grains, most of the bran and some of the germ is removed. This results in the loss of dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Grains that are processed using traditional milling techniques such as hand pounding are more nutritious as they retain the bran and germ fractions and contain a high concentration of B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
While research has shown that increased consumption of whole grains have been linked to the reduced risk of obesity, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, Type-2 Diabetes Mellitus, heart diseases, hypertension, cancer and other chronic diseases, the exact mechanisms of how whole grains offer protection is still not clearly understood. It is now being recognised that not only fibre but vitamins, minerals and other bioactive compounds present in whole grains act synergistically to provide health benefits.
Latest Dietary Guidelines recommend that half of one’s grain intake should be whole grains. Remember the whole grains should not be simply added to the diet along with refined cereals. They should be consumed instead of refined ones. Here are some tips to add whole grains to your diet.
Begin your day with a hearty breakfast based on whole grains. Have chapatti or rotis instead of bread, whole wheat bran flakes or ragi flakes or oats instead of cornflakes or use buckwheat, amaranth, wari, foxtail millet or barnyard millet to prepare traditional breakfast items such as upma, idli, sheera, pancakes, dosas, etc.
For lunch and dinner rice eaters should choose brown or parboiled rice instead of white rice. Those who eat chapattis or rotis should make should make them using different flours rather than only using whole wheat flour.
Use rolled oats or crushed whole-wheat bran cereal to coat cutlets or fish instead of dry bread crumbs or rawa.
Experiment by substituting whole wheat (atta) or oat flour or barley flour or buckwheat flour or amaranth flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes. When tweaking such recipes more leavening agent may need to be added.
Read food labels carefully. See if the first or second ingredient in the list contains the word ‘whole’ before the name of the cereal eg whole wheat pasta, whole wheat noodles, etc.
Eating a variety of whole grains not only ensure that you get more health-promoting nutrients, it also helps make your meals and snacks more interesting.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 19 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)