Why Whole Grains?
Fruits, vegetables and foods made from whole grains should for the foundation of a nutritious diet. Why the emphasis on whole-grain foods? What does whole-grain mean anyway? How much should you eat? How do you figure out what is considered whole grain, and what is not? These are some of the conundrums that we will help address for you.
When you think about it, grains supply much of the carbohydrates (or at least most of the starch) in your daily meals. For that reason, it would probably be best to be at least informed about the grains that you are choosing, and if they are contributing the nutrients that you need. Then, if you choose not to follow the recommendations for reasons of conscious objection, it's on you :)
As we discuss the differences between grain products, and their nutritional differences, it is important to remember the guiding principle of nutrition- the further removed from their original state that foods are, the fewer nutrients they will provide.
Grains tend to be separated into 3 categories:
Refined grains- grains that have been milled in order to yield a fine texture and improved shelf life. This process also removes dietary fiber, iron and other minerals, and many B vitamins. Most refined grain products tend to be highly processed and be high in solid fats and added sugars. The maximum suggested amount of refined grains for an adult is no more than 3-ounce equivalents per day.
Enriched grains- these grains have undergone a process in which the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and the mineral iron are added to refined grains and grain products at levels specified by law (Enrichment Act of 1942 & amendment made in 1996).
Whole grains- grains that have been milled in their entirety (except inedible husk), but not refined. Whole grains include whole wheat, bulgar, corn (and popcorn), brown rice, whole rye, oats, amaranth, farro, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, millet, and more.
Why the emphasis on whole-grain foods? Vitamins, minerals, fiber and other protective substances including hundreds of phytochemicals contribute to the health benefit of whole-grain foods, which are absent in refined grains and considerably lower in enriched grains. A diet rich in whole grains may help protect you against many chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, and it can also be an effective tool for managing your weight. Forget the silly carb-free diets, you body needs complex carbohydrates.
Evidence suggests that people consuming diets rich in whole-grain foods including fiber rich cereals, have improved insulin sensitivity and are less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of interrelated symptoms, including obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipids, and insulin resistance; highly associated with the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
And with all of this information out there, still less than 5% of Americans consume the minimum recommended amount of whole grains! So are you one of those people not consuming enough whole grains? How can you incorporate whole grains into your diet to achieve the maximum health benefits and protection from chronic diseases? It it pretty easy!
Consider following these steps:
Make it at Least 3
According to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov, a minimum of half of your daily recommended grains should come from whole grains. Daily recommendation for women is 6-ounces; 7-ounces for men; 5-ounces for kids. These guidelines are for healthy, yet sedentary people, meaning that they do less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day. To continue to improve your health, increase activity to moderate and increase your proportion of whole-grain foods as well as serving size. To help make this relevant to you, a 1-ounce serving is equivalent to: 1 slice bread, 6" tortilla, ½ English muffin, 1 cup dry cereal, ½ cup cooked rice/pasta, 1 packet of instant oatmeal, or 3 cups of popcorn.
Change it Up
Whole grains differ from refined grains in the amount of fiber and nutrients that they provide, and different whole-grain foods differ in the amount and type of nutrients that they contain. For that reason (as well as avoiding boredom) choose a variety of whole grains. Be a rebel, try something new like bulgar or amaranth. Consider the following tips to get started on building a healthy foundation to your diet.
- Start your day with a high fiber selection- warm bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit, a bran-muffin, buckwheat pancakes, or a whole-grain English muffin.
- Whole grains are naturally low in fat and added sugars- so try to keep them that way. Think about what you are spreading, topping, seasoning or dipping your whole-grain product on or in.
- Think fiber-rich snacks such as raw seeds, nuts, popcorn, whole wheat pretzels, etc
- Try whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, or whole-wheat tortillas and order your sandwich on whole-wheat bread.
- Mix whole grains into other nutritious foods such as brown rice in chili or bulgar in tomato soup to add texture, flavor and nutrients.
Check the Label
Choose whole grains and whole-grain foods over processed foods by being an educated shopper. Compare products by examine the ingredients lists and the Nutrition Facts panel- buy products with whole-grain or whole-wheat first on the list. Note that the terms multigrain, stone-ground, 100% wheat, seven-grain, or bran, do not necessarily mean whole grain- check the labels to be sure! Substitute white rice or refined pastas with brown rice or other whole grains. Buy fresh baked whole-grain bread instead of processed breads- not only will your tastebuds thank you, your body will as well.