Whole grain has many benefits – it is good for the heart, it lowers cholesterol, it is even good for the teeth

When we hear whole grains, we think of multigrain breads, high bran biscuits, whole wheat atta, bran flakes, oats or brown rice. But are we really getting the whole grain? Whole grains have existed in human diet for over 8,000 years, serving our ancestors amply with fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein and energy. In present times, health experts promote them as foods that control type 2 diabetes (by 21 – 30 per cent), lower heart diseases and stroke by 25 to 35 per cent, reduce weight and cholesterol, prevent cancers and lessen teeth and gum disease.

A grain is considered “whole grain” when the seed (kernel) of the plant is present in its entirety. This means it should have its 3 edible parts – germ, bran and endosperm – intact. If one of it is missing after processing, then it is not a whole grain food.

Make sure it is whole: This is tricky when one shops for whole wheat products. That’s because, unless the label mentions “whole” wheat as the first ingredient, it is not a whole wheat product. Therefore all breakfast cereals may not be whole grain products, brown breads or pita merely white breads with extra bran added, and multigrain breads or rusks not necessarily made with whole grain even if several grains are used in the products.

To get the full health benefits, one has to eat whole grains and nothing less. Therefore look for the 100 per cent stamp on instant breakfast cereal packets which ensures they contain whole wheat.

Oats is unique because neither the bran nor the germ is lost during processing. So if you are reading oats or oatmeal on the packet you are surely getting a whole grain product.

Hulled or hulless barley is whole but not pearl barley. Choose brown rice or deep red/ purple traditional rice varieties (eg. red matta) and not polished and white rice.

With India’s diverse granary, choosing whole grains to one’s taste or region should not be a humongous task if we remember other desi grains – ragi, sorghum (jowar), bajra, barley, corn, rajgira (amaranth seeds) and buckwheat. These are easily available as whole grains at a much lesser price.

Go rural to get enough whole grains.

Aim for one whole grain dish at each meal.

Use brown or red rice for staple meals.

Save white rice for occasions.

Germinate brown rice to enhance its nutritive value.

Always buy whole grain pasta. Introduce your kids to whole grains early in childhood when tastes are acquired.

Make puttu and spring hoppers with ragi or red rice flour instead of white rice flour.

Give your infant ragi meal and not instant baby foods alone.

Encourage popcorn and ppped sorghum as snack for the family.

Barley porridge will make you eat less because barley has the highest fibre among all whole grains.

Prepare mashed barley instead mashed potatoes, upma with buckwheat instead of rava, rotis from millets and rajgira laddos.

-PARVATHY R. KRISHNAN

(The writer is a nutritionist)