Meeting Carbohydrates – Grains

In nutrition terms, the word “grain” usually refers to the seeds of grasses – but, not always. Wheat, rice, barley, rye and oats fit this grain- grass definition, but we confuse the issue in some cases. We call popcorn and cornmeal grains, but call corn-on-the-cob a starchy vegetable. At least corn is a grass – the seeds of some non-grasses, like quinoa and buckwheat, are considered grains because they are similar to familiar grains. Fortunately, we care more about the relationship between diabetes and grains than we do about botany, and grains are carbohydrates.

Counting carbohydrates when eating grains is very important because the portion size equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate (one “carb choice”) is probably considerably smaller than the serving sizes we tend to visualize. One carb choice for cooked rice, barley or quinoa is ⅓ cup, and for oatmeal, grits or bulgur it’s ½ cup. Products made from flour are similar – only ⅓ cup cooked pasta, one slice of bread, one 6” flour or corn tortilla, one pancake, and ½ a bagel or English muffin. Grains add carbohydrate to crackers, baked goods, and breakfast cereals too.

Considering the small portion size of grain brings up a very important point about investing in nutrition – whole grains verses refined grains. Whole grains, like brown rice, contain the same carbohydrate as refined white rice. But, refining grains leaves only what’s called the “endosperm”, removing the bran and germ. And, guess which parts of the grain include most of the nutritional value – the bran and the germ. So, if you’re going “spend” carbohydrates eating grains, doesn’t it make sense to get 4 times more fiber, more B vitamins, 5 times more choline, and more phosphorous, magnesium and manganese? Of course it does, and that’s why you hear so much about the importance of choosing whole grains.

Grains are too healthy to avoid, but the dense carbohydrate content can be frustrating. There is one notable exception that may put a smile on your face – popcorn. Not only is popcorn a whole grain, but the one carb choice portion size is 3 full cups popped. Now, that’s a happy ending.

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