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What are grains? They're complete foods

What are grains? The answer to this question probably has more profound meanings than most people would imagine.

The technical, or rather botanical, answer is that grains are the "fruit seeds" of grass cultivated as crops for human consumption. Grains are also called cereals or cereal grains.

This idea of "fruit seed" is itself interesting. It is a botanical classification but it essentially means that the fruit and the seed are fused or combined into one.

It is different from the more regular types of fruit that we know, like apples, apricots and avocados. These fruits have a skin, a layer of flesh or pith and yet another thin layer surrounding the space where the seeds are located. And the seeds are separate.

In the case of grains, everything is fused together. When we look at what are grains from this perspective, we realise that when we eat grains, we everything at one go - the fruit and the seed. That is, provided we eat whole grains.

Sure, the "fruit" and "seed" still have different components. For example, there is a skin or bran, which consists of mainly fiber.

There is also the "flesh" or endosperm, which is mainly carbohydrates. And there is the "seed" or "germ", which is the point where the plant starts to develop. This part is made up of mainly protein and oils.

Complete foods

This brings us to another concept of what are grains.

Whole grains are, in fact, complete foods. They contain all the major nutrients and elements that humans need for food - carbohydrates, protein, oils, vitamins, minerals and fiber. In contrast, refined grains are "empty" foods consisting of mainly carbohydrates and little else.

Well, maybe you feel that whole grains are not complete enough because, for one thing, they contain very little protein. That small amount of protein, however, is enough to meet a person's daily protein requirements. If you eat grains with beans fish or meat, that is extra protein. No harm in having some extra, provided you don't take too much. But in terms of the bare essentials, they are there.

This is why poor people who cannot afford much other foods can survive practically on grains alone. At most they might eat grains with a bit of salt, or salty seasonings like soy sauce, or a bit of pickles. Plus maybe some oil. But grains make up the main part of their diet.

One of my macrobiotic teachers describe grains as "true human food". That, to him, is what are grains. They are the only foods that humans can eat everyday, at every meal, without falling ill.

Followers of the macrobiotic diet and philosophy place special importance on the role of grains in the human diet. Click here to learn more about the macrobiotic viewpoint as to what are grains.

The food of civilization

Another way to look at what are grains is to consider how widely they are eaten. In almost all human communities, except for isolated groups of people like the Eskimos and the Masai tribe of Africa, grains are the principal, staple foods. They are the main foods eaten.

This was not always the case, however. The first grains were cultivated only about 12,000 years ago, whereas human beings - or similar, ape like creatures - have been around for millions of years.

So what are grains in the context of human history? They are the most recent "new" foods - not counting all those artificial chemical food additives introduced to the human diet in more recent years.

There are two ways to look at what are grains from this perspective. To some people, grains are "wrong" foods. They believe that the human anatomy and digestive system has not evolved that much over the past millions of years and that we should go back to eating what our early ancestors ate - mainly wild plants and meat, and no grains.

A different viewpoint with regards to what are grains is that they are the foods that gave rise to human civilization. Before humans started eating grains, they were not much different from animals. But with the start of grain consumption came the organization of communities into villages and, eventually, towns and cities.

Grain consumption, in fact, gave rise to the development of human intelligence - the powers to think, communicate, plan, organize... and love.

Food of the gods

Such abilities are widely believed to have come from "the gods". In many cultures, the answer to the question "what are grains" would be that they are "foods of the gods". This is why, in many traditional cultures, grains are the main food offerings to the gods.

When I visited Bali some years ago, I was both surprised - yet not surprised - to learn that their best rice, grown the organic way without the use of chemical fertilisers, are reserved for religious offerings. Rice is considered "food of the gods" in many Asian cultures, In Mexico, the grain amaranth has a similar status while the food of the gods for the Incas of Peru would be the grain quinoa.

This perspective of what are grains offers some interesting food for thought. Grain cultivation is not easy and the rice terraces in Asia, especially, are marvellous feats of engineering. Who imparted this knowledge and technology to "primitive" people thousands of years ago, before the dawn of human civilization? Could it have been some "gods" from the heavens or visitors from another galaxy?

Hmmmm.... did I not say there is more to the question of what are grains?

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Cooking oils
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Diet plans (13 articles)
Fiber (3 articles)
Fish (3 articles)
Grains (17 articles)
Pasta (10 articles)
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Soy products
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Vegetables (1 article)
Water (6 articles)
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Macrobiotic view of grains
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