For thousands of years, grain and grain products have been one of the most valuable sources of nutrition. Whole grain provides almost all the nutrients we need for our dietary requirements. Carbohydrate (starch), fat and proteins in cereals provide the body with energy. Vitamins and minerals are needed, to regulate body functions such as the metabolic process and nerve and muscle functions. Fibre is also very important for digestion, because it stimulates the functioning of the bowels, satisfies hunger while remaining in the stomach, can help to prevent diseases of the large intestine, is low in calories and thus can be helpful when on a diet.
Not all flour is the same. When refined flour is produced commercially, the germ and outer layers of the grain are removed prior to grinding. This flour consists almost entirely of endosperm, i.e. the floury part of the kernel. It contains hardly any vitamins, minerals or fibre. This processing ensures a much longer shelf life of the flour and results in the much favoured white colour. In past centuries, only the wealthy were able to afford to buy refined flour. Ever since, it has been a symbol of a higher standard of living. Even dietitians promoted this trend at the beginning of the century. They believed the outer layers of the kernel to be merely superfluous fibre. Today, however, it is recognised that the modern diet is often lacking important nutritional requirements due to the high consumption of products made of refined flour. On the other hand, fresh wholemeal flour contains significantly more vitamin B complexes, more vitamin A, E and niacin. It also contains more of the minerals potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. These days it is very important to increase the intake of iron and Vitamin B, since the daily intake of these is often below the recommended levels. Some common grains are listed in the table below.
|Wheat||Bread, rolls, cakes and biscuits, pasta, muesli, sweet and savory hot dishes||mild flavour, perfect for baking due to a higher proportion of gluten, rich in Vitamin B1|
|Rye||Bread, rolls, cakes, pasta, muesli, sweet and savory hot dishes||spicy aromatic taste, high in potassium and iron|
|Oats||Muesli, biscuits, oatmeal, sweet casseroles||mild flavour, light food when suffering from stomach and intestinal problems, the grain with the highest amount of protein and fat, good source of vitamins|
|Barley||Unleavened bread, soups, cereals, savoury hot dishes||rich in niacin, important for nerve functions and for growth|
|Millet||Unleavened bread, soup, cereals, pancakes, pudding casseroles||very rich in iron|
|Buckwheat||Pancakes, croquettes, savoury hot dishes||hearty flavour, contains phosphorus, which is important for the bone structure|
|Corn||Polenta, unleavened bread, savory hot dishes||rich in Vitamin A and E|