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Nutrition Facts: Make Half Your Grains Whole

Like colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains are a good source of vitamins and minerals. It’s recommended to consume at least three ounces of grains per day, and if you can, include whole grains in each meal so you’ll be sure to get your daily amount. One small bowl of oatmeal, one slice of 100% whole-wheat bread, or a half cup of cooked brown rice is each equivalent to about one ounce. Combine your grains with an assortment of fruits and vegetables and a protein (lean meats, nuts, or beans), and you’ll have tasty and nutritious meals and a healthier, happy body!

However, whole grains aren’t as popular as they should be, and in some places, whole grains can’t even be found.  Fast food joints and chain restaurants rarely include whole grains in their menu. In that case, each day, choose to make half of your grains whole and you’ll be on a road to good health.

Read the rest to find out more about whole grains and ways to make half your grains whole.

What is a whole grain?
Naturally, all grains are whole grains
. When found growing in the fields, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant. This seed contains three components: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.

Examples of whole grains include:

  • whole-wheat flour
  • bulgur
  • oatmeal
  • whole cornmeal
  • brown rice
  • barley
  • rye
  • corn
  • amaranth
  • buckwheat
  • ferro
  • quinoa
  • spelt

What isn’t a whole grain?
Unfortunately, many grain products that are sold by major corporations have been processed so that what the consumer buys is a refined grain, like white flour. Refined grains have been polished and bleached so the outer bran layer, a layer containing rich antioxidants and fiber, and the inner germ, containing protein and healthy fats, have been removed. What’s left is the endosperm which provides carbohydrates and a small amount of vitamins and minerals.

Why whole grains?
Eating whole grains benefit your body in so many ways. Studies show that whole grains can reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity, and also lower cholesterol levels. Check out some of the other benefits from eating whole grains:

All plant foods contain fiber, especially in the skin. Fiber can be thought of like a sponge for your body because it scrubs the inside of the digestive system. It also makes you feel full so it can help to regulate overeating. Whole grains contain fiber because the bran layer is still intact.

Carbohydrates in grains are complex carbohydrates. When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into simple sugars and burns them for energy, and the extra carbs that aren’t burned off get stored as fat. When you eat less carbs, particularly less refined grains, your body will burn the extra fat for fuel. Remember, exercise is important too!

Protein builds tissues in the body, like muscles, skin, and hair.  Most protein comes from animal foods, but many whole grains also contain high amounts of protein. Try amaranth, quinoa, and even spelt for a good dose. Vegetarians need to make sure to include whole grains in their plant diet, because many plants don’t contain a complete protein. By including whole grains, a variety of fruits and veggies, beans, and nuts in your plant diet, you’ll get the complete protein amino acid that your body needs.

With so many risks of disease and cancer, it’s important to prepare your body to fight any damage that can occur from everyday living. Antioxidants build up the immune system and can prevent and repair damage caused by free radicals like tobacco smoke and air pollution. In fact, some whole grains contain antioxidants that can’t be found in other plants!

If whole grains are so healthy, why are there refined grains on the shelf?
Many of the reasons for poor nutritional options are due to growing markets and consumer demand. For instance, sliced white bread hit the shelves and it flew right off, filling up tummies with white flour and very little nutrition. Consumers were delighted at the attractive look and the longer shelf life, and corporations also benefited from expanded production capabilities and longer transit times. However, once it started catching on that the refined grains, like those in white bread, had almost no nutritional value, the government ordered that the vitamins and minerals be processed right back in. Now, nutrition labels reflect that enriched grains contain essential nutrients, but don’t be fooled by the tricks. Whole grains are best for your body!

Tips to Make Half Your Grains Whole

  • Look at the ingredients list. If “whole” or “whole grain” is listed before the grain ingredient, then you’re good to go! If you read “enriched” or “refined,” limit yourself. The whole grain should also be listed as the first ingredient. However, be on the lookout for other unknown ingredients and nutritional content. Although more big businesses use whole grains, the product still may not be the healthiest choice. I’ve seen sugary cereals being marketed as a whole grain cereal but yet contain many other additives and questionable ingredients that diminish the nutritional value.
  • Don’t judge a grain by its color- or even its name. Just because wheat bread is brown doesn’t mean it’s made from whole grain. Nine-grain bread and mixed grain bread can also be tricky, because even though it may be healthier than white bread, it’s usually not made from whole grains.
  • Experiment. More and more new chefs incorporate whole grains into their menu. Try out a new restaurant and go for a grain you’ve never tried before.
  • Baking? Substitute half of your white flour with whole wheat flour. Or replace 1/3 of the flour with oats.
  • Hungry for a snack? Munch on popcorn or whole-grain corn chips.
  • Not a brown rice fan? Mix white rice and brown rice together and you won’t even tell! The same tip applies for pasta. If you don’t quite like the taste of whole wheat pasta, try a blended version or mix whole wheat with enriched.
  • Making meatballs? Burgers? Meatloaf? Mix ¾ cups of oats with one pound of lean ground beef or turkey.
  • Want a quick breakfast? Top low-fat yogurt with fresh fruits and granola for a crunchy first meal.

With so many ways to enjoy whole grains, make sure half of your grains are whole…or better yet, make all of your grains whole!  Check out the Whole Grains Council site for more info and healthy recipes using whole grains.

As always, ask your doctor or nutritionist for the proper advice that fits your lifestyle.

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