By Dana Cordy, MPH, RD, Open Arms Volunteer
Here in week two of National Nutrition Month, we explore whole grains. This week, we challenge you to eat more of these amazing foods!
We hear about whole grains more than ever in the media, from our friends and particularly from health professionals. Even the food industry has started to market more and more whole grain products and is reformulating popular brands to include more of this important ingredient. But what is a whole grain and why should you eat it?
A whole grain is exactly what it sounds like. It is a grain that exists in its normal, natural, unprocessed state containing all of the vitamins, minerals and fiber that are inherent in the grain as it grows from the ground. Common whole grains in the United States are wheat, brown rice, rye, corn, barley and oats.
To understand how a whole grain is processed and becomes refined, let’s take a look at rice as an example. Rice is the intact grain, which includes the germ, endosperm and bran. When you see brown rice on a food label, this is referring to the whole grain. Once the grain is processed, the bran and the germ are removed, losing many important nutrients. White rice is the result.
A diet rich in whole grains has been linked to lower rates of chronic disease including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, some cancers and obesity. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people get at least half of their grain intake from whole grain sources.
How can you include more whole grains in your diet? As many food manufacturers begin to recognize the importance of whole grains, there are many products entering the market which contain whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, and oats. For example, take a look at a box of cereal. If “whole wheat” is first on the ingredient list, it means it is the primary ingredient in your cereal. To have a breakfast of entirely whole grains, try a bowl of homemade oatmeal. It is inexpensive and contains nothing but whole grain oats!
Here are a few simple ideas for how to replace refined grains with whole grains in your diet:
- Have brown instead of white rice. Start with a mixture of each if you don’t like the texture at first. Before you know it, you will realize how delicious this chewy, hearty whole grain can be.
- Replace white bread with whole wheat bread – labels are critical here because many breads say “wheat” but are not actually “whole wheat” so read the label carefully!
- Try whole wheat or brown rice pasta in place of plain white pasta. There are many different brands, just try different ones until you find the one you like best.
- Incorporate a new grain into a favorite meal. Add a side of barley, quinoa, bulgur, or even popcorn to your plate. These grains can be found in the bulk section of many grocery stores and are packed with nutrients for a healthy diet – and when you buy in bulk you save money too!
- Most importantly, have fun with it! Adding something new to your diet can be good for you. See this week’s recipe for inspiration.