What are whole grains?
Grains are the seeds of plants. Whole grains contain
all parts of the grain, including the bran, endosperm
- Bran. Forming
the outer layer of the seed, the bran is a rich
source of niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium,
phosphorus, iron and zinc. The bran also contains
the majority of the seed's fiber.
- Germ. A
concentrated source of niacin, thiamin, riboflavin,
vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. The
germ also contains protein and fat.
Also called the kernel, the endosperm makes up the
bulk of the seed. It contains most of the grain's
protein and carbohydrate and has small amounts of
vitamins and minerals.
are milled, processed and refined grains?
- Unlike whole grains that
contain at least part of their bran and germ layers,
milled, processed and refined grains have both the
bran and germ removed during processing; therefore
all of the nutrients in these layers are also
- They are often “enriched”
which means nutrients that were lost during food
processing are added back. For example, B vitamins,
lost when wheat is refined, are added back to white
flour during processing. However, even after
enrichment, milled grains do not have as many
nutrients as whole grains, and they do not provide
as much fiber, if any.
Grains as a ---
Whole grains are made of a rich starch store (the
endosperm) comprising from 60- 80% of the seed
(depending on the species and variety), the embryo plant
(the germ) rich in protein and fats and vitamins and
comprising only about 3% of the seed, and the seed coat,
the bran, which is where most of the B vitamins (and
many of the minerals) are. At 80% carbohydrate, seeds
are, like tubers, an excellent fuel for daily activity.
And whole seeds contain the B1 vitamin necessary for
carbohydrate metabolism. Grains are relatively 'slow
burners', so they don't push up your blood sugar levels
and then suddenly drop them - they tend to keep blood
sugars relatively stable.
Grains as a ---
Protein builds growing bodies, and protein is made up in
turn of 'building blocks' called amino acids. Grains are
low in the amino acid 'lysine', which makes their
protein content less useful than it would otherwise have
been. Wheat has about 8-15% protein, depending on the
variety (ancient wheats had a higher protein content),
rice has a low content, at 7%. So grains in general are
perhaps best regarded primarily as an energy and vitamin
and mineral source.
Grains as a ---
Whole grains have a lot of 'woody' (for want of a better
description) fibre in their seed coat which help
regulates bowel activity. What is less well known is
that many also contain soluble fibre, which also has
positive health benefits. The soluble and insoluble
fiber in seeds is known to be helpful in preventing
constipation and diseases of the digestive tract such as
diverticulitis. It is also suspected that fiber may have
a protective effect against colon cancer. Oats contain
quite high amounts of soluble fiber, as does barley, and
to a lesser extent, wheat.
Grains as a ---
Source of fats, including essential fatty acids
The oils in oily seeds are an excellent energy source,
and when eaten as part of the whole seed are slowly
parcelled out into the blood stream over a period of
hours. While oily seeds are a concentrated source of
calories, like any calory containing (or
convertable) food, their calories are only stored as fat
when we eat more calories than we need for energy.
Otherwise, the oils and carbohydrate are burnt in the
furnace of active life.
the past, various traditional methods people used to
improve the quality and safety of food included drying,
sprouting, culturing, sour leavening, fermentation, and
soaking. Today, for many, the concept of pre-soaking
plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, raw nuts and
seeds is unfamiliar, as are the reasons for doing so.
These whole foods, packed with nutritional goodness,
also contain anti-nutrients, such as enzyme inhibitors,
which can strain digestion, reduce and even inhibit the
absorption of certain essential minerals (for example,
calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium).
Grains and Seeds contain 'antinutrients' - substances
such as saponins, tannins, 'protein splitting enzymes'
inhibitors, and phytates. These compounds reduce the
body's ability to access the nutrients in seeds. The
type, and amount of anti-nutrient varies both with the
species of plant, and with the local variety of the
species (common beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, for
example, have a wide range of phytic acid and
tannin concentrations - with white seeded beans having
least tannins-depending on the variety). Some have
several different anti-nutrients, some have few, some
have relatively a 'lot' of any one anti-nutrient, some
have very little.
Most, but not all, antinutrients are destroyed or
reduced by soaking, sprouting, leaching and cooking.
Soaking and leaching are necessary to reduce some
antinutrients, particulalry in some varieties of bean
and other legumes. Soaking and sprouting seeds also
reduces phytates. Soybeans, for example, contain a 'tryptophane inhibiter' that interferes with
the absorbtion of the amino acid 'tryptophane'. The
inhibitor can be neutralized both by cooking and by
sprouting (the sprouted root must be 3 to 4 inches long
for this to be largely complete).
A very low percentage of the starches in some seeds
'resist' being digested ( up to 7% for
wheat, and oats and 20% for baked beans) These
undigested starches are fermented by the microflora of
the colon, producing variable quantities of gas.
does pre-soaking do? It transforms food in beneficial
ways by starting the sprouting process, which increases
some of the nutrients, neutralizes enzyme inhibitors
(such as phytic acid), softens hard fibres, making food
not only digest and absorb better, but taste better too!
Soaking nuts and seeds stimulates the process of
germination, not only increasing the vitamin C content,
but also increasing Vitamin B content and carotenes
(pre-vitamin A). Most importantly, this soaking neutralizes phytic acid, a
substance present in the bran of all grains and seeds
that inhibits absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron,
copper and zinc. Soaking
also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors present in all seeds.
These inhibitors can neutralize our own precious
enzymes in the digestive tract.
Complex sugars responsible for intestinal gas are
broken down from soaking and a portion of the starch in
the seed is transformed into simpler sugars.
Aflotoxins (potent carcinogens found in grains)
are inactivated. Finally,
numerous enzymes that help digestion are produced during
the germination process.
to presoak? Here are some basic soaking guide lines:
Whole grains: overnight or 8-12 hours. Discard soak
water, then add less water (about half) for cooking.
Legumes: overnight or 12 hours (lentils, whole dried
peas less; garbanzo, soy longer). Change water before
cooking. Some of the enzymes and trisaccharides, which
can cause gas are released during soaking. Nuts and
seeds: overnight. Dry and either eat raw or roast on low
heat. Fats and protein also become more digestible.
really doesn’t take more time; in fact, you will save
time as food cooks faster when presoaked. A little
planning and habit is all that is needed: place food for
the evening or next day in water in the pot you will
then use for cooking. Simple!
© 2005 HealthSmart Nutrition. All rights reserved.
Revised: June 23, 2007