October 2011: Whole Grains Part II

Back in May of 2009, I wrote a monthly newsletter Glorious Grains that talked about the difference between whole grains and “enriched” (processed grains) and then suggested some easy ways to include more whole grains in your diet (including lots of recipe ideas).  Since that time, I’ve been involved with Nurture’s launch into the school setting with lessons and activities to get kids to eat better and be healthier.  As always happens when you teach any subject, you learn so much from your students.  In this month’s newsletter I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned alongside students as they actively question food labels and ingredient lists as related to grain products.  Here are some of the questions we’ll look into:

-Are grains we typically think of as whole grains always whole?
-Why do manufacturers “enrich” grains when they process them?
-How do you know when a grain product (cracker, bread, cereal, etc.) is whole grain?
-What about pasta?

Then I’ll share with you some new recipe ideas that I think work really well during this fall season.

Are grains we typically think of as whole grains always whole? Not always.  Bulgur is sometimes whole and sometimes refined.  Cous cous can be a whole grain, or a refined product (check the label for “Whole grain cous cous”).  When it comes to rice, you can be pretty sure that brown rice is whole, but you should always read the label. White rice is indeed different from brown rice.  When I recently asked a Registered Dietician (Heather Sullivan) about the difference between brown and white rice, she looked up some basic information on the www.whfoods.com site:  “The complete process that converts brown rice into white rice destroys 67% of the vitamin B3 (niacin), 80% of the vitamin B1 (Thiamin), 90% of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids. Fully milled and polished white rice is required to be “enriched” with vitamins B1, B3 and iron.  (Therefore) The difference between brown rice and white rice is not just color! A whole grain of rice has several layers. Only the outermost layer, the hull, is removed to produce what we call brown rice. This process is the least damaging to the nutritional value of the rice and avoids the unnecessary loss of nutrients that occurs with further processing. If brown rice is further milled to remove the bran and most of the germ layer, the result is a whiter rice, but also a rice that has lost many more nutrients. At this point, however, the rice is still unpolished, and it takes polishing to produce the white rice we are used to seeing. Polishing removes the aleurone layer of the grain–a layer filled with health-supportive, essential fats. Because these fats, once exposed to air by the refining process, are highly susceptible to oxidation, this layer is removed to extend the shelf life of the product. The resulting white rice is simply a refined starch that is largely bereft of its original nutrients”.

I recently read a study that suggested that eating brown rice instead of white rice may significantly lower your risk of diabetes:

So you can see that  eating well involves really feeling empowered with knowledge and becoming a “supermarket detective”.  (Kids love this job in the supermarket—try it!).

Why do manufacturers “enrich” grains when they process them? Kids actually really get into the story of Pellagra, since it is also known as the “black tongue disease” (which provides imaginative minds with rich imagery).  Pellagra is a disease which is caused by a Vitamin B deficiency, and it started showing up as manufacturers processed flour into white flour, removing many of the nutrients.  Pellagra was a very serious disease in the early 1900s (besides the “black tongue,” symptoms included confusion and death), and the government intervened and mandated that grain processors add back in lost nutrients.  Today, “enriched” flour is synonymous with “processed flour” and means that a manufacturer replaced the lost B vitamins and iron lost during processing.

How do you know when a grain product (bread, cereal, crackers, etc.) is whole grain? You really have to read the details on the label.   Here is a test you can take for yourself:

Bread Product #1:  Whole or Processed?  Ingredients: Unbromated Stone Ground 100% Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Crushed Wheat, Sugar, Yeast, Wheat Gluten, Honey, Unsulphured Molasses….
Answer:  Whole Grain

Bread Product #2:  Whole or Processed? Ingredients: Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour (Flour, Malted Barley, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Yeast, Whole Wheat Flour, Honey….
Answer:  Enriched (processed) grain

Cereal Product #1:  Whole or Processed? Ingredients: Rice, Sugar, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Malt Flavoring. Vitamins and Iron: Iron, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)…
Answer:  Enriched (processed) grain.  Note that the “Rice” does not indicate a “brown rice” or “whole grain rice”—you can bet that white/processed rice was used.

Cereal Product #2:  Whole or Processed? Ingredients: Whole Grain Oats (Includes The Oat Bran), Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt, Tripotassium Phosphate, Oat Fiber, Wheat Starch. Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.
Answer:  Whole grain

Cracker Product #1:  Whole or Processed? Ingredients: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil…
Answer:  Enriched (processed) grain

Cracker Product #2:  Whole or Processed? Ingredients: 100% Whole of the Wheat Flour Stone Ground, Clover Honey, Sesame Oil, Dairy Butter, Sesame Seeds, Yeast & Salt
Answer:  Whole grain

What about pasta? Unfortunately when it comes to pasta, usually it is not whole grain.  However, whole grain pasta is becoming more popular, and specialty and health food stores almost always carry whole grain pasta—you just have to find them.  Some brands to try include Cleopatra’s Kamut, DeBoles, DeCecco, Eden, Hodgeson Mill, Pritikin, Vita Spelt and Westbrae.  If you are trying to transition your family to whole wheat pasta and are having difficulty, try hiding it in your regular pasta (make both and split the amount on the plate to 20/80 then 50/50 then mostly whole grain).  Everyone should get used to it and may not even notice!

If you are feeling inspired by this newsletter and want to try some new whole grain dishes that work really well with this fall season, I have some great recommendations for you:

Recipe using brown rice: Vegetable Soup with Brown Rice

Recipe using quinoa: Quinoa with Asian Greens, Leeks, and Shitake Mushrooms
Recipe using barley: Sweet Potato Barley Salad or Apple Barley Salad

Recipe using bulgur:  Bulgur Chickpea Salad

I hope you enjoy your whole grains and have a great month!  Kathryn

Back copies of Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange monthly newsletters are always available online.

Don’t forget to check out the recent posts on the Green and Plenty and Wholesome Heart Blogs!

Green and Plenty: presents the latest in nutrition, delicious and seasonal recipes, green design and wellness tips for the reader and her family.

Wholesome Heart: includes delicious recipes, time-saving tips, and nutrition tidbits.


This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.


  1. kathryn says:

    Interesting info:
    Current standards for classifying foods as “whole grain” are inconsistent and, in some cases, misleading, according to a new study in Public Health Nutrition.

    The researchers urge adoption of a consistent, evidence-based standard for labeling whole grain foods to help consumers and organizations make healthy choices. No single standard exists for defining any product as a “whole grain.” Five different industry and government guidelines for whole grain products were evaluated.
    The Whole Grain Stamp (created by the Whole Grain Council, a non-governmental organization supported by industry dues)
    -Any whole grain as the first listed ingredient (recommended by the USDA’s MyPlate and the Food and Drug Administration)
    -Any whole grain as the first ingredient without added sugars in the first three ingredients (also recommended by USDA’s MyPlate)
    -The word “whole” before any grain anywhere in the ingredient list (recommended by USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010)
    -The “10:1 ratio,” a ratio of total carbohydrate to fiber of less than 10 to 1(recommended by the American Heart Association’s 2020 Goals)
    Almost all products bearing these various guidelines were at times misleading. The Whole Grain Stamp actually identified grain products that were higher in both sugars and calories than products without the stamp

  2. kathryn says:

    A few friends have asked me, what about a recipe with Millet? Here’s an easy one to try:
    Millet Pilaf
    -1 T. olive oil
    -½ onion, finely chopped
    -½ red bell pepper, finely chopped
    -1 carrot, finely chopped
    -2 cloves garlic, minced
    -1 c. uncooked millet
    -3 c. water or low-sodium vegetable broth
    -½ large lemon (juice)
    -¾ tsp. salt
    -¼ tsp. pepper, optional
    -2 T. chopped fresh parsley

    Directions: Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, carrot, and garlic; cook and stir 5 minutes or until softened. Add millet; cook and stir 5 minutes until lightly toasted. Stir in water/broth, lemon juice, salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until fluid is well absorbed and millet is tender. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and sprinkle with parsley for garnish. 6 Servings

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