The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 and the new MyPlate both encourage us to make at least half our grains whole – but what does that mean? You may be asking “What is a whole grain?” The term whole grain means that the entire grain seed or kernel is left intact during processing. While refined grains have been milled to remove the bran and germ from the grain and as a result are missing nutrients and health benefits that whole grains include.
Why is eating whole grains so important? Whole grains are sources of dietary fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, and iron. Research studies support that they reduce our risk of heart disease, assist with weight control, reduce stroke and type 2 diabetes risk, and protect against certain types of cancer. There are also limited studies that support the whole grain benefits of reduced risk of asthma and less gum disease.
How can you make sure the grains you are eating are whole grain? Certainly food companies have picked up the benefits of whole grain foods and have played up promoting them in the press and marketing. You do need to do a little checking on package labels to make sure that you are getting what you think you are. Terms like multigrain, cracked wheat, organic, stone ground, and 100% wheat do not mean whole grain. Study the ingredient list on the product label and make sure it says “whole or whole grain” before the word corn, wheat, barley, etc. The Whole Grain Council has developed a stamp that is used on some whole grain products to promote that they are either 100% whole grain or at least ½ a serving of whole grain. Examples of whole grain ingredients are: brown rice, whole wheat, oatmeal, whole grain barley, whole rye or corn, bulgur, buckwheat, quinoa, popcorn, and wild rice.
Tips to get more whole grains in your diet:
- Select a whole grain pasta. You may have tried one a couple of years ago and didn’t like it – but they have improved – so try them again.
- Eat popcorn for your snack.
- Choose a whole grain bread, bagel, cracker, wrap, or English muffin. My family enjoys the English muffins for breakfast or
with pizza sauce and cheese for a quick meal or snack.
- Start the morning with a whole grain cereal. This might be oatmeal or a processed cereal – just check the label for sodium
and added sugars.
- Try adding whole wheat flour to your baked products. You can substitute up to half of the flour in most recipes with whole
wheat for white flour. Start with 1/3 whole wheat and move toward half. I do this with the home-made pancake mix I make for my family – and everyone loves it!
- Try some of unique grains like quinoa, barley, sorghum, or millet.
- Make a breakfast muffin for a quick breakfast with oatmeal, half whole wheat flour, and fruits like bananas, pumpkin, blueberries, or cranberries in them. Bake a batch on the weekend and freeze what you won’t eat in a couple days.
WebMD – www.webmd.com
Whole Grains Council – www.wholegrainscouncil.org
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 – www.dietaryguidelines.gov
Written by: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.