Whole grains provide a wide range of nutrients and phytochemicals that optimize health. Epidemiologic studies support the protectiveness of whole grain consumption for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Dietary guidance endorses increased whole grains in our diet. A crucial question remaining is the effect of processing of whole grains on their content of nutrients and phytochemicals. Although processing is often considered to be a negative attribute in nutrition, and some forms of processing reduce nutritional value, many factors support the importance of processing of grains to enhance grain consumption. First, whole grains as harvested are generally not consumed directly by humans but require some processing prior to consumption. While refining, that is, removal of the bran and the germ, reduces the nutrient content of grain, milling of grains otherwise concentrates desirable grain components and removes poorly digested compounds and contaminants. Cooking of grains generally increases digestibility of nutrients and phytochemicals. Studies in both animal models and humans support the notion that processed grains are often nutritionally superior to unprocessed grains, probably because of enhanced nutrient bioavailability in processed grains. Processing of grains also provides shelf-stable products that are convenient and good tasting for consumers.
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