Wellness: Nutrition

Go for the Whole Grains

If awards were given out for the healthiest foods, whole grains would win a gold medal every time. Compared with refined grains, they have more fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants. Whole grains are also a healthy way to control weight because they contain fiber, are less energy dense (provide less calories per amount of food), and help you feel full longer.

What’s a whole grain?

Grains are the seeds of plants. All grains contain carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, and are low in fat. They are divided into two groups: whole grains and refined grains. The entire grain kernel is made of the outer bran layer, the germ, and the endosperm, where protein and carbohydrates are stored. The germ and bran layer contain niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. The bran layer is also a rich source of fiber. When whole grain is milled to produce refined grain, the bran layer and germ--and the nutrients found there--are removed. Although B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid, and iron are added back in, the fiber is still missing. One hundred percent whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal are examples of whole-grain products.

Whole-grain benefits

The amount of grains you need each day depends on your age, gender, and level of physical activity. According to the USDA dietary guidelines, most adults should have at least 6 ounces of grains each day, at least half of which should be whole grains. An ounce of grain is equal to 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or a half-cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal.

The USDA suggests that whole grains are good for your health in the following ways:

  • The fiber in certain whole grains (oats and barley) helps reduce your cholesterol levels and may lower your risk for heart disease. Fiber also may reduce constipation.

  • Magnesium found in whole grains helps keep bones and muscles healthy.

  • Selenium found in whole grains protects cells against oxidation and helps the immune system function efficiently.

  • Consuming at least 3 ounces of whole grains a day may help keep your weight under control.

Enjoy whole grains

These tips can help you add whole grains to your diet:

  • Eat whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole-grain waffles, or whole-wheat flakes for breakfast. Some whole-grain breads today are hard to tell apart from white bread made from refined flour, so check the food labels. In order for a product to be whole grain, it must list whole grain in the ingredients. 

  • Check food labels for a whole grain claim or these ingredients: whole wheat, cracked wheat, whole cornmeal, whole rye, brown rice, and whole-grain barley.

  • Try something new! A variety of delicious whole-grain breads, pastas, tortillas, cereals, and crackers are available for snacks and dinners.

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