So what is all of a grain? What makes up a grain – that makes it count as a whole?
Grains are broken into three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. A whole grain product includes all three of these parts.
The bran is the protective, outer layer and it is full of antioxidants, B vitamins, phytochemicals, protein, fiber and minerals like iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium.
The germ is like the embryo of the grain; it is the part that will sprout into new life if placed in moist soil or water. This portion contains fiber, B vitamins, healthy oils, phytochemicals, minerals, and antioxidants (like vitamin E).
The endosperm is the spongy inside of the kernel – made up of carbohydrates (starch) and some proteins. It contains trace amounts of B vitamins and minerals.
A whole wheat kernel contains over 100 vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. This doesn’t include the benefits from essential oils, fibers, and enzymes which all work together in the digestion process.
When we eat whole grains, we are getting a complete package, full of healthy oils, vitamins, and nutrients. The fiber portion of the grain slows down the digestion process, allowing us to feel full longer, and allowing the starch to metabolize more slowly. This prevents a huge sugar (starch) dump in our bloodstream.
Stripping away the germ and the bran (like they do when they make refined flour) leaves you with only the starchy carbs (aka sugar) and very little nutrition.
The question arises – then why would we have ever started “refining” grains in the first place?
Whole grain flours did not last long – mainly because of the oils in the germ going rancid. Mold and fungi would form in the flours, and it would make the people who ate them sick. The solution was to get rid of the parts of the grain that caused the flour to go rancid quickly (the bran and the germ) – and voila! – you have refined flour.
Years go by, and WWII soldiers who were consuming copious quantities of white flour products started to get sick – from deficiencies in B vitamins (primarily riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and thiamin) and iron. Refer back to what nutrients are included in the germ and the bran!
Our USDA (US Department of Agriculture) came up with a “solution” for the nutritionally void refined flour. They made a law in 1943 – called the “Enrichment Law” – that requires the manufacturers of white bread to enrich the dough – or add back in – the top five nutrients that these sailors were lacking.
Problem solved? Not really.
Please realize that eating enriched flour products is still just like eating white bread. It is still missing enzymes, fiber, and other essential nutrients.
White flour actually does more harm than good in our bodies.
Enriched (or refined) flour becomes deadly to our bodies. There is not enough nutrition left after the germ and the bran are stripped away to keep us alive, PLUS our bodies must steal nutrients from our bones and tissues in order to properly digest the white flour product!
If you tried to live on white bread alone, you would die within 60 days due to lack of nutrients in addition to your body using its own nutritional stores to digest the white bread.
This also applies to any product made with white flour – bread, pasta, crackers, cookies – white flour is everywhere!
So now that you know the real story on white flour products, we will take a look at some whole grain products and some wording on packages that lets you know which products are a healthy choice (and, equally importantly, which words tell you to avoid the product altogether.)