Nutrition for Life - 2021

Whole Grains

By Parul Kharod

Grains have been the staple in diets all over the world.

Climate, accessibility, trade, and culture are just some of the geographic factors that influence which grains are eaten in which regions.

• Wheat is the most common grain consumed around the world. China, Russia, and India are biggest producers of wheat. Varieties of wheat such as bulgur and couscous are commonly used in the Middle East. Wheat is also a staple in Italy and the Mediterranean countries.
• Rice is the staple in the southern part of India. Rice is also a staple in majority of the Southeast Asian countries. Did you know that there are over 40,000 varieties of rice on the planet! Chinese Black Rice or Forbidden Rice and Bhutanese Red Rice are two of the unique varieties.
• Maize or corn is used in North America, South America, and Africa.
• Teff is an ancient grain that is used in Ethiopia and other East African countries.
• In northern Europe, especially in countries such as Norway, Finland, Germany, and Ireland, the grain of choice is Rye.

Spelt is a hardy grain eaten in Central Europe and northern Spain.

• Grown in South America since probably 4000 BC or earlier, and the favorite grain of the Aztecs, is the nutritious grain Amaranth! Amaranth, aka Rajgira, is also eaten in India usually during festivals and fasts when regular grains like wheat and rice are not allowed.
• Two grains that are consumed in the Mediterranean countries are Farro and Freekeh.
• Traditionally consumed in India since ancient times, Millets are a nutritional powerhouse. There are several varieties of millets used in different parts of India. Millets are also a staple in China, and African countries including Ethiopia and Nigeria.
• Sorghum (Jowar) is the fifth most consumed grain worldwide!
• An Ethiopian ancient grain, Teff is said to be the tiniest grain on earth; it is 150 times smaller than a single wheat kernel.
• Kamut or Khorasan is another ancient grain believed to have originated in Mesopotamia, and is eaten in Turkey
• Fonio, a grain from the Millet family, is thought to be the oldest grain in West Africa.
• A common Chinese grain is Job's Ears or Chinese Pearl Barley. It is also used and eaten in East Asian countries like China, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.
• An ancient grain, Buckwheat was first cultivated in the Balkan region of Europe about 4,000 B.C and was one of the first crops grown by the early American settlers.
• Most of the world's Barley is produced in Russia, followed by Germany, France and Ukraine. Barley is eaten in North America and European countries as well.
• Oats are eaten in Russia, Canada, North America, and Europe.
• Quinoa is a grain found in South America and in particular the Andes region which includes Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru.

As you can see there are several wonderful nutritious whole grains to try!

All whole grain kernels contain three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Each part has health-promoting nutrients. The bran is the fiber-rich outer layer that supplies B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.

The germ is the core of the seed; it is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. The endosperm is the interior layer that has carbohydrates, protein, and small amounts of some B vitamins and minerals.

Say no to refined grains

Replacing refined grains with whole grains can significantly improve cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammatory markers. Research shows that higher intake of whole grains is associated with improved outcomes for mortality, coronary heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.

Unfortunately, instead of enjoying such a treasure, we have been eating overprocessed flours that are stripped of fiber and important nutrients. Most people do not eat the intact whole grains. We end up eating a lot of refined flour. When we consume overly processed grains, we end up consuming simple starches that turn into sugar in the body. Thus, we increase risk of diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and obesity.

Tips to include whole grains

• Limit foods made with flour (atta); especially things with refined flour, enriched flour, all-purpose flour/maida.
• Eat cooked intact whole grains most often.
• Start with a better breakfast - – for example eat oatmeal made with steel cut oats or upma made from quinoa.
• Use whole grain or sprouted grain bread instead of instead of eating white bread.
• Choose whole grain or multigrain pasta or noodles made from whole grains.
• Modify recipes to use whole grains – for example make idli/dosa or khichdi with brown rice or other whole grains instead of white rice.
• Limit crackers, cookies, parathas, Rusk, Khari, khakhra, and other baked goods that are usually made with maida or processed atta.
• The whole grain label on food packaging can be highly misleading. Don't get misled by claims on the front of the packaging. Focus on reading ingredients.

Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at