Cereals are considered to be the foundation of many the great civilizations, and developed along with them. Man was able to move from being nomadic to being settled once he learned how to cultivate cereals and to obtain an important part of their sustenance from them. It was one of the first human agricultural activities, creating a constant food cycle around which human activity became organised.
Every culture, every geographical area of the planet, consume a specific type of grain, creating a gastronomic culture around them. In Europe, wheat has dominated, in america it is corn while rice is the staple food in Asia, and sorghum and millet are unique to African communities. Today, wheat has the highest consumption, then rice and corn. With a return to organic farming, other coarse grains have become more prominent like buckwheat, rye and oats.Other plants such as quinoa, traditionally grown in South America, have a growing market.
Cereals are mainly consumed in grain, flour, meal, porridge, flakes and pasta. Cereal grain, the edible part, is a seed made up of several parts: the shell, composed primarily of cellulose fibers containing vitamin B1, is removed during the milling of grain. Inside the grain there are two main structures: the germ and the nucleus. The germ contains abundant protein, rich in unsaturated fats containing essential fatty acids and vitamin E and B1 that are lost in the refining processes for white flour. The inner part is composed of starch and in wheat, oats and rye a complex protein called gluten, which is composed of two proteins: gliadin and gluteina, which gives elasticity and the bread-making properties of dough.
Whole grain (unprocessed) flours are rich in nutrients, contain higher amounts of fiber, complex carbohydrates and vitamin B1.
"The whiter the bread, the lower the nutritional value."
Grains are not high calorie foods in themselves, so putting on weight is more to do with how much you eat of them. Fresh wholemeal bread is better as many processed loaves have fat added to keep them fresh and crisp. Pasta is not necessarily high in calories as 70g of dry pasta is actually 250g when served and so the calorie density is lowered when cooked. The sauces are what increase the calorific element. Pastries may have a base of wheat flour but the other ingredients – fat, sugar and dairy – make them high calorie density foods and the fats are usually the saturated fatty acids that are best avoided. Cereals for breakfast in general are a good food and they are often supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Simple cereals are low in fat, sodium and have plenty of fibre – avoid sugary and sweetened ones.
We should be looking to introduce a variety of wholemeal cereals into a regular vegetarian diet to get the goodness from each one of them
Cereals usually contain:
– Carbohydrates, about 58% to 72%, as starch;
– Protein 8% to 13%;
– Lipids small proportion (2% to 5%), the germ can extract vegetable oil from some cereals
– Fibers 2% to 11%
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