Grains are the edible seeds of certain grasses. Wheat, oats, rice and corn are common grain foods, as are barley, spelt, millet and sorghum. Pseudo grains are foods that are not true grains may be similar in appearance and nutritionally to true grains. Examples of pseudo grains are quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth.
Absolutely! The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognizes that grains are an important part of a healthy eating pattern. Grain foods provide dietary fiber as well as essential vitamins such as folate, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, riboflavin, and vitamin A; as well as minerals such as iron, zinc, manganese, copper, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium.
A grain is made up of three parts: the outer bran, the inner endosperm, and the germ which is like the heart of the grain. A whole grain includes all three of these parts, whether intact (such as brown rice), ground into flour and then prepared in foods (such as whole-wheat bread). Whole grains would contain all of the nutrients found in the grain kernel: fiber, B-vitamins, etc.
Refined grains contain only the endosperm, the starchy part that makes up about 80 percent of a grain. This part of the grain is a concentrated source of carbohydrates and protein, as well as some vitamins and minerals.
Enriched grains are refined grains that have vitamins and minerals added after the milling process. Most refined grains are enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added after processing. These grains have been fortified with nutrients that address specific public health needs like neural tube defects. Fiber is not always added back to enriched grains.
A person’s dietary needs depend on a variety of factors including age, weight, activity level and gender. Anywhere from 5-8 ounce-equivalents of grains is recommended for most children and adults. Younger children and older females need less, whereas males and the average adult need more. An ounce-equivalent would be:
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
- ½ cup of cooked pasta or rice (1 ounce dry)
Of all the grain foods eaten in a day, at least half should come from whole grain sources.