What are whole grains?
A “whole grain” is the kernel or seed of a plant in its most complete state. Grains contain three edible parts: the endosperm, which contains starch and protein; the bran, which contains fiber, antioxidants, and B vitamins; and the germ, which contains B vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and some protein. Refined, or “white,” grains are stripped of the nutrient rich bran and germ. Iron and B vitamins are added back to many refined grains – these grains are referred to as “enriched”. Here is a link from the Whole Grains Council showing which nutrients are removed from whole grains to make refined grains, and which nutrients are added back to make enriched grains.
Choosing whole grains.
The latest dietary guidelines released in 2015, recommend that all adults eat at least half of their grains as whole grains. For most adults, this means at least 3-5 servings; children should eat at least 2-3 servings. The good news is: when it comes to eating more whole grains, it’s a matter of choice. It’s easy to incorporate whole grains into any meal or snack, even if you’re not an Iron Chef. The hardest part is just knowing what to look for on the labels! I will offer several tips for reading labels in this article, but you can also check out this guide to identifying whole grain products. Below is my list of ideas for eating more whole grains any time in your day.
Many people are already enjoying some type of bread or grains as part of their morning routine. Good whole grain choices include:
Whole grain toast
Whole grain cold cereals
Whole grain bagels and English muffins
Whole grain pancakes and waffles
Granola and breakfast bars mixed with whole grains
Quinoa (try Apple and Cinnamon Breakfast Quinoa from SkinnyTaste)
Bulgar (try Bulgar Maple Porridge from NYTimes)
It’s easy to add whole grains to a sandwich. Swap out your white or enriched bread products for one of these options:
Whole grain bread
Whole grain pita
Whole grain tortilla
Also, try adding cold brown rice to your lunch salads. Having a burrito? Choose brown rice instead of white.
There are so many opportunities at dinnertime to switch out your refined or enriched products for a healthier whole grain alternative:
Whole grain pasta
Whole grain pizza crust
Brown rice instead of white
Whole grain breadcrumbs for meatloaf, breaded chicken, etc.
Whole grain dinner rolls
Whole grain side dishes (try quinoa, whole grain pilaf, or my favorite, black rice)
Oats (add 3/4 cup to meatballs and burgers)
Whole corn meal for corn bread and corn muffins
Add 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, sorghum, or barley to soups
Whole grains are perfect for snacks. Their high fiber content helps you feel full and, because they’re high in B vitamins, can also give you the pick-me-up you’re looking for. Here are some ideas:
100% whole grain crackers
Whole grain brown rice cakes
Popcorn (limit salt and butter)
Granola or other ready-to-eat whole grain cereal (add to yogurt and berries for a healthy parfait)
Oatmeal cookies (in moderation, of course)
More Tips to Remember
Make sure you’re switching out your refined/enriched grains for whole grains, not adding them.
Food packaging often has confusing words like Words “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “100% wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “seven-grain,” or “bran” – all of which are not typically whole grain products.
Since the Whole Grains Council has introduced their “Whole Grain Stamp”, finding whole grain products is a little simpler. There are two varieties of the stamp: the Basic Stamp and the 100% Stamp. If a product has received the 100% Stamp, all its grain ingredients are whole grains, and it contains a minimum of 16 g (a full serving) of whole grain. If a product has the Basic Stamp, it has at least 8 g of whole grain, but it also may contain some refined grain. Be aware that , even with the stamp, many of these products can contain added sugars. Check the label. Words such as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, or raw sugar may indicate added sugars.
Color does not always indicate that a product is whole grain. It’s easy for a bread to appear brown due to other ingredients, such as molasses.
Still confused on how to find a GOOD whole grain product? Harvard Medical School suggests trying to find products with a carb-to-fiber ratio of 10-to-1. Look at the label and divide the grams of carbohydrates by 10. If the grams of fiber is at least as large as the answer, the food meets the 10-to-1 standard.
Want more information on whole grain products? Here is a link to the Whole Grains Council’s product search tool.