A cereal is a kind of a grain that is used for making animal as well as human food.
It is a type of a processed food that is prepared from grains and is meant to be eaten as part of the main course in a meal.
A cereal is a type of a grass which belongs to the mono cot type of family and is used for its edible part or component which is consumed. This edible part namely consists firstly of the endosperm, secondly germ and lastly the bran. The cereal grains are generally cultivated in larger quantities as the same are consumed widely by a large population and also provide energy and are consumed in practically every meal, hence a larger requirement.
When they are obtained in their natural form, they are extremely rich in certain nutrients especially in vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. This form is known as the raw form and here the bran is intact. Once removed, the grain is technically refined but the inner endosperm is only high in carbohydrate content and looses its other nutritional benefits.
Cereals derive their origins from the Roman word ‘Ceres’ who was worshiped as the Goddess of agriculture and harvest.
Cereals when added to the diet provide large amounts of energy and thus they should be used wholly, as in the whole component used for nutritional purposes. In some cases where in the cereal is either crushed or refined, it should be mixed with other components that help enhance the lost nutritional value.
Thus, ideally a whole grain would be one that would include all of the components of the kernel in an intact condition, namely the bran, germ as well as the endosperm.
Types of cereals
Normally, all the cereals are a type of a whole grain and are further classified as large grain cereals, those cultivated in the fields or in the water paddy and millet’s which are usually small grained.
Modern day items such as cakes, muffins, biscuits and white bread are classified under refined cereals.
Recent studies have been carried out where in each part of the cereal was studied to obtain and find out the nutritional benefit of each.
The bran or the outermost layer is rich in vitamins, minerals, omega fatty acids and dietary fiber
The endosperm is extremely rich in carbohydrates which mainly include starch.
The germ contains generous quantities of magnesium, phosphorus, folate and thiamine.
Benefits of whole grain cereals
As we have already studied above, whole grain cereals are extremely rich in vitamins and minerals.
The are also low in their content of saturated fat but contain good amount unsaturated fats especially the omega 3 fatty acids.
Whole grain cereals also comprise a good source of anti oxidants and phytochemicals that are essential in helping balance the cholesterol levels in blood.
Biochemically the whole grains contain a variety of compounds that are helpful and extremely beneficial to the human body. These namely include:
Lignans which are known to lower the risk of coronary heart diseases have been known to act on cancer cells and inhibit their growth, thus preventing cancer.
Phytic acid which is helpful in case of those suffering from diabetes as it helps lower the sugar value of the food. It is also known to have a beneficial action on in intestines especially the colon and is known to control and stop the growth of cancerous cells in the same.
Phenolic compounds which act as anti oxidants thereby rejuvenating the body.
Saponins, squalene, phytostreols and oryzanol have direct action on the cholesterol and lower the blood levels of the same.
Studies have shown that the consumption of cereals especially those that are rich in dietary fiber such as barley and wheat have beneficial effects on the heart and also help protect the heart from a number of illnesses.
This is especially helpful in the elderly and the menopausal age group who are more susceptible to heart related diseases owing to age and a change in the hormones of the body.
A majority of the heart illnesses are linked to hampered levels of blood cholesterol and fatty acids. Cereals have been shown to have a positive effect on the same as they help breakdown and reduce cholesterol levels thus bringing down the same in blood.
Benefits for diabetics
Clinical experimentation has shown that the consumption of at least two servings of whole grain foods can help control the risk of diabetes, especially the type 2 diabetes.
The fiber content of the grains have been shown to affect and improve the insulin secretion by the pancreas, thereby helping reduce blood sugar.
Obesity linked benefits
Foods that are high in their fiber content usually take longer to digest and thus form an important component in the diets advised for the obese. As a result of intake of these foods, they feel a sense of fullness for a longer time thus reducing the appetite and helping with weight loss.
Whole grain cereals are also not high on caloric value and do not contain higher percentages of the fat, hence beneficial to those who are overweight.
Action on bowel
The high fiber content helps improve the bowel movement and promotes peristalsis.
Owing to the improved peristaltic movement, bacteria that may collect and other parasites are also eliminated through the stool.
It is important to note here that a diet that may be high in fibers that are not soluble can lead to the formation of pouches in the intestine that contain partially digested food. The same can get infected eventually and would need to be removed surgically in extreme cases.
Thus it is extremely important to maintain an equal balance of soluble as well as non soluble fiber in the diet content so as to obtain maximum benefits.
Whole grain is also known to help prevent the growth and proliferation of cancer cells especially those in the colon and the intestine. It thus helps control the spread of cancer acting as an extremely beneficial agent in preventing the same.
Thus we see how grains and cereals have extremely beneficial properties and how its components have various actions on different parts of the body, thereby preventing many major illnesses.
The intake should thus be regular but controlled so as to obtain its benefits but not create any side effects owing to the excesses of the same.
We shall now try to understand in detail a variety of cereals and explore the health benefits of each.