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Do you know what whole grains are? Every time we talk about healthy eating for diabetes and heart disease, we hear people urged to eat whole grains instead of refined grains. Maybe we should talk more about what that actually means.

According to an article from the Journal of Nutrition, whole grains are associated with a lower risk of both diabetes and heart disease. That article defines whole grains as “intact, ground, cracked, or flaked fruit of grains in which all components of the kernel, i.e., the bran, germ, and endosperm, are present in the same relative proportions as in the intact grain.”

Most people think of wheat bread when they hear “whole grain.” You might be saying “Oh yes, I gave up white bread a long time ago, now I eat only multigrain or wheat bread.” That’s a start, but if you must eat bread, be picky about it. Look for bread that is 100% whole grain – in other words, the first word on the listing of ingredients should be “whole” and it should specify whole grain. If it’s not, it is just bread that’s brown because it is made with unbleached flour, and that’s not the same thing.

When the grain is “whole,” that means that the bran, the germ and the endosperm are intact. When wheat or other grains are refined, often the bran and germ have been removed, leaving only the starchy endosperm. The endosperm is the energy supply for the rest of the grain, but when you remove the bran and germ, most of the nutrition and fiber are removed as well. For this reason, the amount of fiber might also help identify the healthier options: some experts suggest whole grain bread should contain at least 3 grams of fiber.

Why should you be so picky? Diabetic patients are typically advised to limit their carb consumption. Even if you are taking a traditional approach of having some carbs, you need for the ones you have to be as nutrient-rich as possible.

What about other whole grains?

Bread might be what most people think of when they think of whole grains, but there are others, like quinoa, oats, brown rice, rye, barley, and bulgur. Again, refined is not what you’re going for: instant oats are refined, meaning they’ve been ground down to a point where they will cook quickly (not to mention that many individual instant oats packets have added sugar). Instead, look for rolled oats or steel cut oats. Several of these grains can be served as side dishes or hot breakfast cereals, some are used to make in other breads besides wheat. In any event, to use your carb allowance wisely, look for whole grains that are unrefined.

Of these other grains, quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”) is sometimes referred to as a “super food, because in addition to being a whole grain, it has more protein than any other grain, as well as a number of minerals. This week our latest recipe, Quinoa Bowl is a delicious one-dish summer meal made with quinoa and layered with healthy trimmings and our yummy red sauce and green sauce. We hope it will make you discover a love for quinoa and for healthy sauces! Even if you are limiting yourself to very small amounts of carbs, quinoa is deserving of a place on your menu.

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