In the past, whole grains were thought to provide nothing more than fiber, but new research reveals whole grains offer vitamins and minerals plus high levels of antioxidants and other healthy plant-based nutrients. Whole grains contain protective antioxidants in amounts near or exceeding those in fruits and vegetables. They also provide some unique antioxidants not found in other foods. Corn, for example, has almost twice the antioxidant activity of apples. Wheat and oats almost equal broccoli and spinach in antioxidant activity.
Research continues to turn up new evidence on the benefits of whole grains. We've known for years that the fiber in whole grain helps promote digestive health. More recently, studies have shown that eating more whole grains may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Even newer studies published show that whole grains may lower triglycerides, improve insulin control, help with weight management, and slow the buildup of arterial plaque.
What Is a Whole Grain?
All grains start out as whole grains. If, after milling, they keep all three parts of the original grain -- the starchy endosperm, the fiber-rich bran, and the germ -- in their original proportions, they still qualify as whole grains.
Make Half or More of Your Grains Whole
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans make half their grains whole. This means most people should consume three or more servings of whole grains each day. This is a minimum - the Dietary Guidelines say that, "more whole grains up to all the grains recommended may be selected."
Active people would need even more whole grains. Four, five, even six servings of whole grains daily are not unreasonable.
Family-Friendly Whole Grain Ideas for Every Meal
- Breakfast: Whole grain bagel, whole grain raisin toast, whole grain ready-to-eat cereal, oatmeal, whole grain English muffin, whole grain waffles, whole grain pancakes
- Lunch: Stuffed whole grain pita, sandwich on rye bread, whole grain wrap, sub sandwich on whole grain roll, whole grain vegetable burger, hamburger on whole grain bun, barley mushroom soup
- Snack: Popcorn, whole grain crackers, oatmeal cookie, whole grain chips, whole grain granola bar, whole grain graham crackers, whole grain pretzels
- Dinner: Brown rice with a stir fry, whole grain pasta with your favorite sauce, tacos in corn tortillas, wild rice, bulgur pilaf, home made pizza on whole grain pita crust, whole grain cornbread
Consumers may still worry that finding and preparing whole grains could be difficult. However, new whole grain foods introduced in the past two years provide plenty of options to appeal to everyone's taste, budget and busy schedule. Americans today can enjoy a broad range of whole grain ready-to-eat cereals, white whole wheat bread, 90-second brown rice, instant oatmeal, popcorn, whole grain crackers, whole grain chips, and many more choices.
The Dietary Guidelines define a serving (or "ounce-equivalent") of grain as 1 slice of 100% whole grain bread, a cup of 100 percent whole grain cereal, or 1/2 cup of 100 percent whole grain hot cereal, cooked pasta, rice or other grain.
As Americans begin to appreciate the nuttier, fuller taste of whole grains, many start with products made with a mix of whole and enriched grains. In these foods, servings are counted differently: 16 grams or more of whole grain ingredients counts as a full serving. This means most Americans need 48 grams or more of whole grains daily.
A growing number of foods are being labeled with information about whole grain content (often in grams), making it easier for consumers to identify whole grain products. Foods made only with bran are not whole grain products. High fiber is not always equivalent to whole grain. Check the ingredient list for whole grains among the first ingredients.
Resources: American Dietetic Association, Wheat Foods and Whole Grains Council
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