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Whole Grains

Whole Grains

The Grain Group includes any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas and grits are examples of grain products. Grains are divided into two subgroups: whole grains such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice; and nutrient enriched refined grains such as white bread and white rice. Enriched refined grains are fortified with the B vitamin folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy and possibly heart attacks and strokes. They contain twice as much folic acid as whole grains.

Grain foods themselves are not fattening, as many believe. It is the toppings, sauces and fillings added to grain-based foods that add calories and fat.

Obese adults who slashed calorie and added whole grains (think brown rice, oatmeal) to their diets lost more belly fat than dieters who ate refined grains (like white bread), a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says.

Proven and significant health benefits of whole-grains come from the whole grain nutrient "package", not just from the fiber or individual nutrients.

Whole Grains vs. Heart Failure

Men who consume more whole-grain breakfast cereals have a lower risk of heart failure, the leading cause of hospitalization among older Americans. One out of five 40-year olds will be diagnosed with heart failure in his or her lifetime. Researchers tracked more than 21,000 participants in the Physicians' Health Study for an average of 20 years. Those who ate whole-grain cereal at least seven times a week had a 28 percent lower risk of heart failure than those who ate whole-grain cereal less than once a week. Those who hate whole-grain cereal two to six times a week had a 22 percent lower risk. Refined grains weren't linked to heart failure.

What to do...

Eat whole, not refined grains. Earlier studies found a lower risk of heart attacks and high blood pressure in whole-grain eaters. It is not clear whether the potassium, antioxidants, phytoestrogens, fiber, or other constituents of whole grains and may protect the heart. It is also possible that something else about whole-grain eaters kept their hearts pumping, though the researchers accounted for age, smoking, alcohol, vegetables, multivitamins, exercise and other factors.

Whole grains contain hundreds of phytonutrients that appear to work together in powerful ways with the fiber and other nutrients to protect against chronic diseases like heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes.

Whole grains have a pleasant, nutty flavor and in some cases, such as breads, may be denser.

Learn to appreciate these qualities of whole grains either alone or with low fat additions to reap the array of health benefits.

Make Half Your Grains Whole

It is recommended that you eat at least 3 ounces of whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day.

To get your whole grains, choose foods that name one of the following whole grain ingredients first on the label ingredient list:

Products with Whole Grains

  • brown rice
  • bulgur
  • whole grain barley
  • graham flour
  • oatmeal
  • whole grain corn
  • whole oats
  • whole rye
  • whole wheat
  • wild rice

Make it Easy to Add Grains

Adding whole grain foods to your eating plan is easy with quick ideas like these.

  • Include a whole grain cereal in your breakfast or snack.
  • Try quick-cooking versions of oatmeal, barley and brown rice.
  • Make sandwiches with whole wheat or whole rye bread.
  • Use whole wheat pasta in your favorite recipes. It comes in a variety of shapes.
  • Snack on whole grain crackers or reduced fat microwave popcorn.

Smart Portion Sizes for Your Grains

  • 1/2 cup cooked cereal, pasta or rice = a computer mouse
  • 1 cup dry cereal = a baseball
  • 1 bagel = a hockey puck
  • 1 tortilla = a small (7-inch) salad plate
  • 1 pancake or waffle = a music CD
  • 4 small cookies such as vanilla wafers = 4 casino chips

View a Whole Grain Pantry Checklist (New window)

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