According to an expert at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, whole grains are not only a rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but they also play an important role in weight management.
“It is thought that whole grains aid in weight management by adding bulk and making a person feel fuller so they are less likely to overeat,” said Keli Hawthorne, a registered dietitian at BCM.
Studies have also shown that eating whole grains may reduce the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes. They may also lower triglycerides and slow the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
What is a whole grain?
Whole grains include three parts of the grain – the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Non-whole grains have been stripped of the bran and the germ, the components with the highest nutritional content, leaving only the starchy endosperm. The germ and bran found in whole grains are rich sources of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, organic components of plants that are necessary for sustaining human life.
Examples of easily available whole grain foods include brown rice, wild rice, oatmeal, popcorn and whole wheat. Whole wheat white bread is also a whole grain. Other whole grains that are gaining popularity include millet, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, bulgur and triticale.
At least 3 servings daily
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of a person’s intake of grains be whole grains and to aim for at least three servings of whole grains per day. One portion of whole grains can be one slice of whole wheat bread, a half cup of brown rice, five whole wheat crackers, one cup of popcorn or a half cup of oatmeal.
“When searching for items with whole grains at the grocery store, look for key words on the packaging,” said Hawthorne.
On the ingredient list, the first item listed should be “whole (name of grain)”, such as “whole wheat.” Other key words include “stone-ground whole (name of grain)” and “100 percent whole (name of grain).”
Wheat flour, durum wheat, semolina and organic wheat may or may not contain all parts of the grain. Enriched flour, bran and wheat germ are not considered whole grains. Packaging that says “made with whole grains” does not indicate how much of the product is actually made with whole grains and how much is not.
Anything labeled multigrain has several different types of grains. They may or may not all be whole grains. Try to stick to food packages that say whole grain, not just multigrain, in order to get the health benefits of whole grains, said Hawthorne.
Products that are now available in whole grain include whole grain breads, cereals, English muffins, tortillas, bagels, pita bread, crackers, cereal bars, pasta, waffles, pancakes, French toast, muffins and pizza dough.
Hawthorne advises to always consider the entire food product when choosing a healthy diet.
“Just because a breakfast cereal advertises that it is a whole grain doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest overall choice. Many cereals are also very high in sugar. Read the food label and choose the product that is best for you,” she said.
Adding whole grains to your diet
Hawthorne also offers the following tips to include more whole grains in a healthy diet:
-Use whole grain breads in sandwiches
-Substitute brown rice for white rice in favorite recipes or when dining out
-Add whole barley to soups or stews
-Eat whole grain cereals at breakfast or for snacks
-Try whole wheat pasta
-Consider popcorn as a snack – it’s a whole grain