Whole Grains: Why and how you should eat them

Whole Grains

What are whole grains, anyway?

Grains are divided into two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains have all of the parts of the original kernel—bran, germ, and endosperm—in the original proportions. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making half of the grains you eat whole, so use whole grains instead of a refined-grain product.

How to Find Whole Grains

Remember, being brown doesn't make bread whole wheat, and being white may not mean that bread is made with just refined white flour. Finding whole-grain bread takes some label reading skills. Any bread labeled "whole wheat" must be made with 100-percent whole-wheat flour.

Also, did you know that even if bread labels advertise "seven-grain" or "multigrain," they are not necessarily whole-grain products? Check the Nutrition Facts panel to make sure whole-wheat flour is listed as the first ingredient and find loaves made mostly with whole-wheat or other whole-grain flour.

Adding more whole grains to your family's meals is a smart move. Below are some of the health reasons why you should eat whole grains.

Whole grains can contain a lot of fiber

Fiber is one big reason to eat whole grains. Adults need about 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily, and whole grains contain two types—soluble and insoluble—which are both beneficial to your health. Not all whole grains are high in fiber, though. Focus on oats, barley, and bulgur.

They help digestion

Whole grains have other digestive benefits as well. The fiber content keeps bowel movements regular (studies have shown that people who eat more fiber need fewer laxatives).

They can help lower cholesterol

Whole grains not only help prevent your body from absorbing "bad" cholesterol, they may also lower triglycerides, both of which are significant contributors to heart disease. In fact, whole grains lower the risk of heart disease overall.

They can help control weight and redistribute fat

People who eat a lot of whole grains are more likely to keep their weight in check and less likely to gain weight over time than those who eat refined grains.

Even if eating whole grains doesn't actually make you lose weight, studies have shown that it can help you cut down on the amount of body fat you have and lead to a healthier distribution of that fat.

They make you feel full

Whole grains take longer to digest and have a more satiating effect. This could also help keep your portions under control.

They help regulate blood sugar

One of the main benefits of whole grains is that compared to refined grains, they help keep your blood glucose from spiking, which can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, among other things.

They are a good source of B vitamins

Whole grains are abundant in the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, all of which are involved with metabolism. Another B vitamin, folate (folic acid), helps the body form red blood cells and is critical for preventing birth defects in babies. Whole grains can help, but women who are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant need to take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid a day.

They deliver essential minerals

Along with vitamins, whole grains are a great source of the minerals our bodies need to stay healthy. These include iron, which transports oxygen throughout the body and helps prevent anemia; magnesium, which builds bones; and selenium that protects against oxidation. They also contain zinc, necessary to keep your immune system in fighting shape.

They contain Resistant Starch

Carbs can be good for you. The trick is to find the right kind of carb and Resistant Starch is one. It's a carb that acts more like a fiber. Because it's not easily digested, it moves slowly through your digestive system burning more fat, stoking the hormones that make you feel full, maintaining your insulin in good working order, and keeping blood sugar and cholesterol levels down. Try for 10 to 15 grams daily. Oatmeal, pearl barley, and brown rice are all excellent whole grain sources of Resistant Starch, which is also found in green bananas and other non-grain foods.

How to Add Whole Grains to Your Diet

Want to add more whole grains to your meals? Change your cooking style to include more whole grains and boost the fiber content of meals. Partner whole grains — brown rice and vegetable stir-fry or a whole-wheat pita stuffed with salad. Fortify mixed dishes with high-fiber ingredients — try adding bran or oatmeal to meatloaf.

Looking for other ways to make half your family's grains whole? See below for some tips on how you should eat them

➤Start with breakfast. Choose a fiber-rich, whole-grain breakfast cereal, oatmeal, or toast. Check the grams of fiber per serving; more fiber will keep you feeling fuller, longer.

➤Choose whole grains over refined items when selecting loaves of bread, buns, bagels, tortillas, kinds of pasta, and other grains.

➤Experiment with different grains such as buckwheat, bulgur, millet, quinoa, sorghum, whole rye, or barley. To save time, cook extra bulgur or barley and freeze half to heat and serve later as a quick side dish.

➤Enjoy whole grains as a snack. Three cups of whole-grain, air-popped popcorn contain 3.5 grams of fiber and only 95 calories. Also, try 100-percent whole-wheat or rye crackers.

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