It is estimated that around 12,000 years ago, agriculture became a mainstay in the socioeconomic lives of human beings.
And immediately after the gradual installation of agriculture came the successful implementation of grains, all according to Oregon State University.
There were many reasons why grains became popular as a crop. They are easy to store, high in energy-providing carbohydrates and can tolerate many different environments. Grains were used for everything from currency to satiation.
It’s amazing to think that, even after 12,000 years, grains are still a heavily prevalent part of the human diet. With all of this history, how could grains be considered unhealthful?
Many of the grains now being consumed are refined grains, and not whole grains. The website www.wholegrainscouncil.org states that “100 percent of the original kernel – all of the bran, germ and endosperm – must be present to qualify as a whole grain.” Refined grains exist as white bread and other “white” foods.
“Whole grains are considered better because they keep all parts of the grain intact, which means they contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals than their refined counterparts, which have been stripped of these beneficial nutrients during processing," says Lauren Blake, nutritionist at The Ohio State University. "The nutrients in whole grains can help to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and even some cancers when included regularly in a balanced diet.”
Many people might not be getting enough grain in their daily diets, however.
According to a study conducted at University of Minnesota in St. Paul (and funded by General Mills), 39 percent of kids under 18 and 42 percent of adults consume absolutely no whole grains at all. This poses threats to gut health, as with less whole grains comes less fiber – 78 percent less on average in refined grains, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Refined grains also lose much of the healthful attributes of whole grains.
The USDA states that refined grains drop protein amount by 25 percent, Vitamin E amount by 95 percent, calcium by 56 percent and magnesium by 84 percent, and increase carbohydrates by an average of 5 percent.
To compensate, many food companies “enrich” their refined grains with vitamins. However this process does not alter the amounts of protein, calcium or fiber. In short, whole grains are always better.
And while oatmeal and corn are very popular grains, there are many, many other grains that are delicious as well as unique.
Amaranth: Originates from the Aztecs. Gluten-free and high in protein, this grain is worth exploring in cereals, pancakes and nearly everything after waking.
Spelt: Can be used in place of common wheat in most recipes. It’s nourishing, rich in nutrients and milder than other grains. As an added health bonus, spelt is higher in protein than common wheat.
Einkorn: A drought-resistant crop known for its high antioxidant ratio and high level of protein. Its most popular use seems to be in cereals.
KaÑiwa: High in protein and containing a unique antioxidant called quercetin, which, according to a 2010 study published in Inflammation & Allergy - Drug Targets, can lessen the severity of allergic reactions.
Rye: Has an elevated fiber profile, making it a good substitute for other grains for diets, as it promotes satiety more efficiently.
Millet: The “bird seed” grain. Gluten-free and has a short, substantial growing season. For health professionals, its allure revolves around its very high B-vitamin content, which assists cell metabolism in the body.
“B vitamins play a key role in metabolism because they help our bodies use the food we eat as fuel to keep us energized throughout the day. While the vitamins themselves do not provide this fuel, they are what help us convert protein, fat and carbohydrates to the energy we can use. They also promote healthy nervous, brain and heart function, as well as healthy skin and hair,” says Blake.
David Allen is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.