Grains of Truth
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Grains of Truth

Grains of Truth

by Staci Hendrickson

What is a Grain?
Technically, a grain is the seed of a cereal grass. There are currently over 20 different types of grains being grown around the world. The grain group can be defined as refined, enriched, and whole-grain products. With refined grain products, the kernel is milled, the bran and germ are removed, and only the endosperm is used. By U.S. law, refined grains must be enriched with the following nutrients: Iron, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, and Folate. Enriched grains can help a person meet their daily requirement of these vitamins and minerals, but in most cases they do not contain the same amount of fiber or phytochemicals as whole-grains.

A whole-grain food is made with the entire grain kernel (bran, endosperm, and germ), and therefore, does not need to be enriched. Whole-grain foods also contain fiber and many different natural phytochemicals (literally plant chemicals). Scientists are just beginning to understand the exact mechanisms behind the protective health benefits of eating whole grains.

The Role of Grains in a High-Performance Diet
A very important variable in optimizing glycogen stores and optimizing performance is total carbohydrate intake, both on a daily basis and during exercise. The grain group can play a leading role in meeting these daily carbohydrate needs. Whole grains should form the majority of your grain group choices, but refined products are okay in moderation.

Tips for Increasing Your Whole-Grain Intake
The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans do not suggest a specific daily whole-grain goal, but some health organizations are advocating at least half of one's total daily grain intake be from whole grains. For many Americans, making the switch to even a 50/50 ratio of whole-grain to refined would require some significant effort on their part. The recommended range of servings for the grains group is six to eleven. The average American eats only 0.5 servings of whole-grains per day.

One reason that Americans might be missing that goal is the fact that refined grain products dominate the aisles in most supermarkets. In fact, only 5% of all grain foods on the market today are made from whole-grains. However, that trend is changing and by checking the ingredient list, you can find whole-grain products to meet your carbohydrate needs, satisfy your daily requirements and help reach your performance goals. To identify a whole-grain product, read the ingredient list and look for the word "whole" (whole oats, whole wheat, whole barley, etc). Other terms sometimes used are unmilled or unbromated, also the term cracked, i.e. cracked wheat.

Switch to Whole-Grain When You Shop
Cereals: General Mills' Cheerios, Wheaties, Quaker Oat Squares, Life, and Quaker Toasted Oatmeal, Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran, Kellogg's Complete Bran, Shredded Wheat Cereals, Raisin Bran Cereals

Snack Foods: Nabisco Triscuits, Quaker Oatmeal Crisp Bars, Nature Valley Granola Bars

Breads: Sara Lee Homestyle Wheat, Pepperidge Farm Multigrain, Crunchy Oat, 9 Grain, Orowheat 100% Whole Wheat, Earthgrains Stoneground Wheat

Pastas: Creamette Brand, Hodgson Mill Brands

Go With the Grain
Grains are an excellent source of B vitamins, folic acid, and complex carbohydrates. Whole-grains in particular provide fiber and numerous plant chemicals which may help protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Don't miss these yummy grains recipes.

About the Author: Staci Hendrickson is a dietitian and personal trainer in private practice in Lawrence, Kansas. Staci specializes in pediatrics, eating disorders and sports nutrition. She has been a Run America Club member since 1992. She can be reached at

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