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Types of Grains & Cereals

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

Grains, or cereal grains as they're often called, play a central role in the American diet. Each year, about 2 billion tons of cereal grains are produced around the world, according to the Institute of Food Science and Technology. While most Americans typically consume enough grains in total, many eat a diet heavy in refined grains instead of whole grains, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. It's a good idea to shift your daily intake by increasing the amount of whole grains you eat.

Nutritional Benefits of Grains

Grains, particularly whole grains, provide health benefits. Whole grains include the entire kernel -- bran, germ and endosperm -- and are rich in carbohydrates including fiber, healthy fats and phytochemicals. Grains are also a good source of iron, magnesium, selenium and B vitamins. Eating whole grains instead of refined grains lowers cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin levels and may protect your heart, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

A Staple Around the World

The most common grains are corn, rice, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum, rye and millet. Corn tops the list with over 800 million tons being produced annually, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. However, when it's eaten as sweet corn, it counts as a starchy vegetable, whereas popcorn is a whole grain. Rice and wheat come in second with 685 and 600 tons produced each year respectively. A variety of food is made with grains, including bread, pasta, snacks, cooked cereals, breakfast cereals, baby food, pastries and other baked goods.

Don't Forget Pseudo-grains

Pseudo-grains, or pseudo-cereals, aren't true grains since they don't belong to the Poaceae botanical family. However, they earned the name "pseudo-grain" because they are nutritionally similar to true cereal grains. The most common pseudo-grains are buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa. Buckwheat is high in protein, second only to oats, and rich in polyunsaturated fat. Amaranth is also rich in protein and fat compared to other grains, with 77 percent of its fat content being unsaturated. Quinoa is low-glycemic and contains all essential amino acids. It also has a low fat content, most of which is polyunsaturated.

Have a Grainy Day

Adults should get between three and eight servings of grains per day, depending on age and sex, according to the Whole Grains Council. Aim to get at least 50 percent of your total grain intake from whole grains. Examples of a serving are 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, rice, bulgur or cooked cereal; one slice of bread; one small muffin; or 1 ounce of dry pasta, rice or other dry grain.

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