Grains, especially whole grains, are an essential part of a healthy diet.
Grains are fuel for your body like gasoline for your car. Yet few Americans
consume the suggested
three servings of whole grains per day. What makes whole grains so important? And what are some of the whole
grains we should be eating?
“The evidence that whole grains are great for your health has been
Susan Watkins, RD, CDE, manager of nutrition education and weight management at
St Jude Heritage Medical Group.
“But there is still confusion among consumers about which products
contain whole grains. So it’s a good idea to learn more about what
whole grains actually are, and what food labels are saying, to derive
the most benefits from them.”
While consuming more bread and cereal may seem to “go against the
grain” for people trying to get healthier and lose weight, they
should know which ones can help them do so.
Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, corn or other cereal is a grain
product, such as bread, pasta and oatmeal. The
Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that at least half of all the grains consumed should be whole
grains – but commercial products don’t always contain them.
Whole grains contain the entire grain: the bran, germ and endosperm. These include
whole wheat, oats, brown rice, wild rice, corn, rye, barley, popcorn,
buckwheat, triticale, millet, bulgur, quinoa and sorghum.
Refined grains have been ground into flour, which removes the bran and germ, along with
fiber, vitamin B and iron. Refining grains improves their texture and
shelf life, but to replace the missing nutrients these products are often
‘enriched’ with the iron and vitamins added back in. The problem
is now the food is not in its natural form and is still missing many of
its powerful nutrients. Wheat flour, enriched bread and white rice are
examples of refined products.
Whole Grains Provide Essential Nutrients
While all grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and
minerals, healthier by far are the whole grains. And the
nutrients they contain can have a big impact on overall wellness. Whole grains are
packed with protein, antioxidants and important trace minerals like iron,
zinc and copper. The B vitamins, folate, iron, magnesium and selenium
in whole grains help build bones, support the nervous and immune systems
and process energy.
Whole Grains Promote Heart Health and Reduce Risk of Chronic Disease
Whole grains typically contain more fiber than refined grains, and high-fiber
diets have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease by helping to
lower the “bad”
cholesterol in the body. Whole grains contain other key nutrients that play a role
in regulating blood pressure and lowering blood sugar, which also supports
the heart. And
studies have shown that a diet rich in whole grains has been linked to lower incidence
of other chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
Whole Grains Help with Weight Control
When whole grains are included in a diet low in fat and cholesterol, they
can help with successful weight management. Because they digest slowly,
fiber-rich whole grains help a person feel fuller longer. Many people
find that they can eat less and stay full when eating whole grains because
less-processed food is much more satisfying. Additionally, fiber promotes
the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon and can reduce constipation.
“Eating more whole grains is an easy way to add a layer of ‘health
insurance’ to your life,” says Watkins. “One-half or
more of your grains should be whole-grain, so if you eat six servings
of grain daily, as the American Heart Association recommends, then three
whole-grain servings should be your target. Check the label for the word
“whole” in the list of ingredients. Terms like 'multigrain,'
'organic' and '100% wheat' may sound healthy, but none
actually equate to whole grain. Also, the 'whole' ingredient should
top the list of ingredients to show there’s more of it than anything
else." Just make sure the product isn’t also loaded with added
sugars, sodium and fats.
One great way to get more whole grains in your diet is to begin with breakfast.
Start your day with a sprouted grain bread such as toasted Ezekiel with
a protein like peanut butter or an egg; or, try a steel-cut oatmeal with
fresh berries and nuts. Follow up with a
quinoa, bean and vegetable salad. Dinner can include mixed brown and wild rice.
You can incorporate all sorts of grains into salad, too.
"There are so many ways to work more whole grains into your diet,"
says Watkins. "Explore recipes and ingredients, find your favorites,
and get in the whole grain habit." It’s easier than you think,
and before you know it, you will be looking and feeling your best!
Have you made whole grains, breads and pastas a part of your balanced diet?
Tell us what your favorite whole-grain foods are in the comments below.