Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
Brunilda Nazario, MD
Eating more whole grains is an easy way to make your diet healthier. Whole grains are packed with nutrients including protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium). A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer. Whole-grain diets can also improve bowel health by helping to maintain regular bowel movements and promote growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.
Yet the average American eats less than one serving per day, and over 40% never eat whole grains at all. Young adults get less than one serving daily.
Why? For one thing, it's not always easy to tell just which foods are whole-grain. Scan the bread, cereal or snack packaging, and virtually every one promotes its whole-grain goodness. But not all of them actually are whole-grain. Terms like "multigrain," "100% wheat," "cracked wheat," "organic," "pumpernickel," "bran," and "stone ground" may sound healthy, but none actually indicates the product is whole-grain.
Also, many people have the perception that whole grains just don't taste good, or that it's difficult to work them into their daily diets.
To help you start reaping the benefits of a diet rich in whole grains, WebMD got the facts on how to tell which foods are made of whole grains, along with suggestions on how to fit the recommended servings into your healthy eating plan.
A whole grain contains all edible parts of the grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. The whole grain may be used intact or recombined, as long as all components are present in natural proportions. To recognize whole grains, keep this list handy when you go to the supermarket and choose any of the following grains:
But what about when you're buying processed products, such as a loaf of bread? You probably know to avoid products made of "refined" wheat. But did you know that some manufacturers strip the outer layer of bran off the whole kernel of wheat, use the refined wheat flour, add in molasses to color it brown, and call it '100% wheat' bread? That's true -- but it is not a whole grain.
That's why it's important to check the ingredients list for the word "whole" preceding the grain (such as "whole wheat flour"). Ideally, the whole grain will be the first ingredient in the list, indicating that the product contains more whole grain than any other ingredient by weight.
The amount of grains you need daily varies based on your age, sex, and physical activity level, but to keep it simple, the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines say whole grains should make up half of your grain intake.
The good news is that whole grains are not necessarily brown, or multigrain, or only found in adult cereals. You can find them throughout the food supply, including many processed foods.
Recently, there has been an increase in whole-grain options in products ranging from pastas to most cereals. Even many restaurants now offer brown rice and other whole-grain options.
For whole-grain nutrition without the "grainy" taste, there are newly reformulated products that use lighter whole wheats and new processing techniques to make them look and taste more like white flour.
These "white whole-grain" products are a great way to transition into eating more whole grains, particularly if your children are turning their noses up at them or will only eat white bread.
Whole grains can be an excellent source of fiber. But not all whole grains are good sources of fiber. Whole wheat contains among the highest amount of fiber of the whole grains. Brown rice contains the least.
For most people, whole grains are their diet's best source of fiber.
Most whole-grain sources yield from 1 to 4 g of fiber per serving, comparable to fruit and vegetables, and just the right amount when spread throughout the day.
Can fiber supplements give you the same benefit? While you get plenty of fiber from these supplements, you'll miss out on all the other nutritional benefits of whole grains.
However, if you know you're not getting at least 25 g of fiber per day, fiber supplements are a great way to help you get there. Women need 25 g per day, while men should get about 38 g per day.
Learning to enjoy whole grains is simply a matter of retraining your taste buds to become familiar with the fuller, nuttier flavor of the grain, experts say.
Whole grains taste and feel different to the mouth, and therefore it takes time to adjust to these new grains.
Here are eight easy ways to work more whole grains into your daily diet:
Help your children eat healthfully: Start off young children with a diet of whole grains. For older children, try the white whole wheat flour, and incorporate whole grains into foods that have other flavors: burgers with whole-grain buns, brown rice medley with vegetables, soups, and whole wheat pitas as crusts for make-your-own individual pizzas.
SOURCES:U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010."Larson, N. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, February 2010; vol 110.Whole Grains Council.Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, University of Minnesota.Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, consultant, WebMD.Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies, Oldways and the Whole Grains Council.Kristin J. Reimers, PhD, manager of nutrition, ConAgra Foods Inc.Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2008; vol 108: pp 853-856.Wyatt, H., National Weight Control Registry, 2002; vol 10: pp 78-82.
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