We’ve all heard eating grains, especially whole grains, provides positive health benefits for most people. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as published by the federal government, recommends three daily, one-ounce servings of grains, with at least half of those servings coming from whole grains.
According to the guidelines, a slice of whole wheat bread, ½ cup brown rice, five whole-wheat crackers or ½ cup oatmeal are considered servings.
But exactly what are whole grains and what’s the big deal about them?
Christina Rollins, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian at Memorial Medical Center and Illinois Dietetic Association Spokesperson, said grains are divided into two groups: whole grains and refined grains.
“Whole grains have the complete grain kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have the bran and germ removed, leaving just the kernel. This provides a finer texture, and a longer shelf life, but a lot of the fiber, iron and many of the B vitamins are also lost in the process,” said Rollins.
The big deal about grains? The health benefits they provide.
When Rollins discusses whole grains with her clients, she stresses three health benefits:
- Whole grains are higher in fiber which keeps you fuller longer.
- They help reduce overall cholesterol levels.
- Whole grains help prevent constipation.
How to choose whole grain foods.
Be sure and look at the ingredients list on the labels of the food you buy. Choose foods that contain whole wheat, whole oats, whole grain, whole rye or brown rice first on the label’s ingredient list.
Look at the grams of fiber as well. Whole grain foods are often higher in fiber than foods that use refined grains. Food is generally considered high in fiber if there are three or more grams of fiber per serving.
- Tips for preparing whole grain foods
- Snack on ready-to-eat, whole-grain cereals such as toasted oat cereal. Avoid sugar-coated cereals as they add empty calories.
- Prepare brown rice, quinoa or whole-wheat pastas for your meals.
- Try whole-grain snack chips such as baked tortilla chips.
- Use whole grains in mixed dishes, such as barley in vegetable soup or stews and bulgur wheat in stir-fry or casseroles.
“Eating better is not an all-or-nothing choice. Every little improvement you make in your food helps,” concludes Rollins. “My best advice has always been to just look at the food label and try for more whole grains or fiber with each choice you make.”