At the base of the Food Pyramid is Grains, also known as the starch group. The first, and largest, of the five major food groups contains any food made from wheat, oats, rice, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Grain based foods such as pasta, bread, and cereal, are divided into two types: whole grains and refined grains.
Whole grains are made with the entire grain seed, which contains the bran, germ and endosperm. Examples of whole grains are whole-wheat flour, oatmeal and brown rice. These foods contain plenty of dietary fiber, helping to manage weight and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Whole grains are also rich in complex carbohydrates that take your body time to digest, providing long term energy and preventing the blood sugar spike often associated with eating refined grain products.
Refined grains, unlike whole grains, are milled to remove the bran and the germ. This results in a loss of B vitamins, iron and dietary fiber. Some types of refined grains are white flour, white bread, and white rice. ‘Enriched’ products have B vitamins, folate (folic acid aids in preventing cancer and birth defects), and iron replaced after the milling process, but still contain little dietary fiber. Because they contain little dietary fiber and lack nutrients, refined grains, or simple carbohydrates, are less filling and easy to overeat. Your body also turns simple carbohydrates quickly into sugars, leading to a rapid increase in blood sugar and a subsequent crash when consumed.
Roughly half of daily caloric intake should come from the grain group, so six to eleven servings per day are recommended based on activity level and age. A serving of grain is considered equivalent to one slice of bread. This can also be half an English muffin, half cup cooked pasta, three cups of popcorn, or one cup of ready to eat cereal. The key to making successful grain choices is reading labels and finding a way to work whole grain products into your eating schedule. When reading labels, select products that list at least one type of whole grain as the first ingredient.
For more information on the Grain group, check out http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains.html and get ready for the next segment, A Balanced Diet Part III: Vegetables.