Grains are the most important food group. We should be eating most of our foods from them every day. It's no accident the USDA's food pyramid suggests we eat 6-11 servings from this group each day. According to the food pyramid, we should be eating twice as much from the cereals group than any other group. This is because our bodies were designed to subsist mostly on grains and they do their best when following this simple guideline. Grains should supply us with the majority of our energy intake. Grains are loaded with complex carbohydrates that take a lot of time to metabolize and turn into energy. This is important for a couple of reasons. By eating grains, your circulatory system doesn't get hammered with a ton of glucose that's hard to process. Eating mostly sweets and highly refined foods causes all sorts of problems. These foods cause high and then low blood-sugar levels with their attending symptoms of loss of concentration and behavioral problems in children. The complex carbohydrates found in whole grains are slowly broken down by your digestive system into usable sugars. They give your body a metered flow of energy - food that will stick with you without you or your children getting hungry long before the next meal.
Grains are also a rich protein source, supplying half the world's protein needs. Mostly low in fat, grains are generally rich in the B vitamins and contain many minerals needed for good health. Please see our vitamin and mineral pages to learn more about how these essential nutrients perform in the body.
Generally, grains are high in soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber contains few vitamins, minerals or calories but performs a vital function in our digestive system. Fiber maintains bulk so the digestive juices keep flowing. Our intestinal tract permits liquefied, digested foods to pass through it's walls into the blood stream where these nutrients can be used throughout the body to keep us healthy. Not as well known is the digestive system's secondary function of taking waste products and poisons and carrying them outside our body. If everything we eat is liquefied and absorbed, there's nothing to keep these poisons and waste products, which are dumped into the intestinal tract, moving through the system. And if this happens, some of them are even re-absorbed back into the circulatory system where the blood moves these unwanted agents throughout our systems again! This is very unhealthy. Cholesterol is an excellent example of this where it's re-absorbed back into the body in the large intestine if there isn't something to keep it moving. This 'something' is fiber, and is sometimes referred to as 'roughage.' Fiber has been directly linked to reducing heart disease. It also reduces constipation, tends to clean the intestinal walls and generally promotes good health. Grains, in their whole, unrefined form contain large amounts of fiber.
Let's talk a bit more about protein. The weak levels of the amino acid, lysine, found in grain has customarily been considered grain's nutritional 'weak link.' However, unknown by many people, there are several grains rich in lysine such as buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa and oats. These grains can either be eaten by themselves or blended with wheat, one of the low lysine grains, providing a balanced protein. You can also do this by adding dairy products or legumes to your diet. It's not necessary to eat meat to exceed the body's protein needs.
For those of you interested in food storage, grains in their whole seed form are the longest storing foods obtainable. When stored dry in a cool place, grains retain their excellent nutritional characteristics over many years. Unfortunately, grain milled into flour has a relatively short storage life of about one year when stored in paper bags. This is because flour link have that hard, outer shell that protects it's contents from oxidation like the whole seed provides. For the best storage life, store your foods in their whole seed form. Then, when you grind your grains for use, you get all the nutrition these whole kernels intended you to receive.
Nature meant for us to eat grains in their whole form as has been done by man for millennia. But within the last 100 years this has changed. Grains, freshly ground in their whole seed form contain all the nutrients required for their digestion. When we eat fractional products made from grain such as highly refined white flour, our bodies must pull from their nutrient reserves to digest these nutrient poor foods leaving our nutrient bank poorer than it was before we ate them. This ought not to be! Grains eaten in their whole form add to the body's nutrient bank, bringing good health.
Man has been cultivating grains for many thousands of years. Most of the present grains we eat have ancient origins but a few, such as Tritiale are only about 100 years old. Through the centuries, different grains have naturally evolved until today they contain large amounts of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Of present day world production, wheat tips the scale as the most cultivated crop making up 30% of the world's grain production. Wheat is followed by rice and corn both at 28%. Barley is 4th at 7% followed by sorghum at 3%, oats at 2% and millet and rye are each at 1%. In addition to these grains, there are numerous minor grains available whose production is so small they are not on the world grain production list.
Eating a balanced diet from all the major food groups greatly improves your chances of getting the vital nutrients your body needs to stay healthy without the need of nutritional supplements. Eating these foods in their whole, fresh form will increase the nutritional value of what you eat and at the same time be more pleasing to the pallet.
We hope the pages in this section will help you rediscover the wholesome goodness found in the many grains available and tickle your curiosity enough to give the ones you are unfamiliar with a try.