In previous posts we've discussed how grains, and grain products, can be mislabeled. The FDA has provided a definition that allows food manufacturers to claim a product as whole-grain when it has unhealthy characteristics such as we discussed two posts ago. Eating intact grain avoids these problems.
Last post we discussed how processing changes the health value of grains. The amount of processing makes a difference. Some processing is minimal, and does not change the nutrients or other characteristics of a grain. These grains are as healthy as completely unprocessed grains because they remain intact. They have the full complement of nutrients, including potassium, and absorb as slowly as completely unprocessed grains.
Of course, whenever grains are ground into flour, they will absorb more quickly. This occurs even if the flour is whole grain and includes all three components of grain. Eating products made from whole grain flour results in hunger returning quickly, usually within about 2 hours.
There are various different terms that are used with grains. So it can be confusing to find out about a grain. Different grains use different terms, even though the grains have the same components. Intact barley, oats, brown rice, wheat, millet, buckwheat, and rye use different terms to indicate an intact or minimally processed grain.
Types Of Intact Grain
Hulled barley is an intact grain. The outer hull is removed. However, the grain itself is still composed of bran, germ and endosperm. Pearled barley, on the other hand, is not intact. The bran has been removed.
There are some differences for hulled barley from pearled barley in cooking and soaking. Hulled barley requires a longer soaking time and cooking time than pearled barley.
Barley is often used to replace rice in dishes. It is high in beta glucan. So in this way it is similar to oats. Beta glucan is felt to lower cholesterol and to bind bile salts. One caution however, is that it does have gluten. So, like wheat, it should be avoided if you have gluten intolerance.
Oats are initially hulled and roasted. This minimal processing still results in an intact grain. The oat grain retains the bran and germ, as well as the endosperm. There is no loss of nutrients.
There are multiple labels associated with intact oats. These include oat groats, steel cut oats, and rolled or old-fashioned oats. Quick cooking or instant oats are intact grain. However they have been crushed into a finer powder that is absorbed more quickly. And often, quick oats and instant oats have sodium added.
Brown rice can be considered intact grain. Only the hull has been removed. But the bran and germ are intact. However, when it is made into white rice the fiber, fatty acids, and many vitamins and minerals have been removed. White rice is not an intact grain.
Quinoa is considered a pseudo grain. Quinoa is not the seed of a grass, so it technically is not a grain. It has some unique characteristics that are very helpful to vegans. Quinoa contains lysine and isoleucine. Vegans may otherwise get very little of these two amino acids. Many vegetables and fruits, as well as many true grains, lack these two amino acids. Quinoa also has some fatty acids that are not common in grains, such as oleic acid and ALA.
Quinoa can be substituted for rice in many dishes. It should be rinsed in cold water to remove saponins because of their bitter taste. To cook quinoa, use one cup quinoa to 2 cups of water.
Millet has no gluten. It can be used in place of rice. It is very useful for giving different types of texture. If it is not stirred at all during cooking, it will become fluffy. If it is stirred, it will become like mashed potatoes. Use 1 cup of millet to 2 1/2 cups of water to cook.
Buckwheat is another pseudo grain. Like quinoa, it is not the seed of a grass, and it has no gluten. And like quinoa, it has all 8 essential amino acids. Intact buckwheat is called groats. Toasting it improves its taste. When it has been pretoasted, buckwheat groats are known as kasha. Use 1 cup of groats or kasha with 2 cups of water to cook.
Wheat is a true grain. It is the main grain found in most grain products. Usually only the endosperm is used. It is the main source of gluten in many products. The usual processing of wheat is milling, which breaks the wheat grain into parts. Wheat is grain in which the hull is bran, so that dehulling wheat removes the bran. However when the bran is added back in along with the germ it can be labeled “whole wheat,” as discussed in the last two posts.
Rye grains can be eaten intact. Rye is most usually mixed with other flours. It is made into breads, and into crisps, with mixed flour. However, pumpernickel is made from unmixed rye flour. Because the bran and germ are difficult to separate from endosperm in rye, its flour usually includes all three grain components and has more nutrients.
There you have it – the most common grains and two popular pseudo grains. These all can be eaten as intact grains. And when eaten as intact grains, they will provide more nutrition, absorb more slowly, and be healthier than processed grain products.