Why And How To Eat More Whole Grains
A study from Louisiana State University came out this week that found that less than 1 in 20 Americans eat the recommended intake of whole grains each day. In most cases, those surveyed — which included over 7,000 American adults between the ages of 19 and 50 — ate less than two-thirds of a serving each day. What is a whole grain, and how can you work toward meeting the recommendation of three daily servings?
To start, whole grains and dietary fiber are related, but they are not the same thing. Dietary fiber is the indigestible portion of a plant food which includes grains, but fiber also encompasses other foods such as beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. A whole grain food is one that is made from the entire grain kernel, as opposed to a "refined grain" which has had the outer layers of the seed (the bran and the germ) removed.
The bran, or the outermost layer of the grain kernel, contains important antioxidants, B vitamins, and dietary fiber. The germ also contains protein, minerals, and some healthy fats. Examples include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, corn, popcorn, and brown rice.
Whole grains are considered "healthier" because studies indicate that eating whole grains can positively affect heart disease risk, blood sugar control in diabetics, appetite control (for weight management), relief of constipation, and possibly a lowering of cancer risk, particularly those of the breast, colon, and pancreas.
In addition to the direct benefits of consuming whole grains, studies have found that those who choose whole wheat over a refined flour product are also more likely to overall have more healthful diets. For example, in the LSU study, those who ate mostly whole grain foods consumed more fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, and consumed less sugar and cholesterol.
"We can say that consumption of whole grain is associated with improved nutrient intake or diet quality," said study author Dr. Carol O'Neil. "We know from previous studies that consumption of whole grains is associated with a generally healthier lifestyle."
In 2005, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that Americans make half or more of their daily intake of grains "whole." For those aged 9 and older, this equates to about three or more servings of whole grains each day. In most cases, a serving of grains is about 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal (oatmeal, for example), one slice of bread that contains at least 8 grams of whole grain, or one whole cup of a ready-to-eat cereal such as Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Wheaties, or Total.
Dr. O'Neil says that the hesitation toward eating whole grains is a misguided fear of the taste. Regular whole wheat, for example, has a coarser texture and a slightly bitter taste. However, as with most foods, learning to enjoy whole grains can be acquired, so start small and increase over time. For example, for people who only like white rice, try substituting between 1/4 and 1/2 of the white rice with brown rice and serve in a casserole. Or try a white-wheat bread, which has the same nutritional benefits as whole-wheat, but with a softer texture.
Try one of these tips (mostly from the Mayo Clinic) for adding more whole grains to your meals and snacks:
- Trade out your sugary, refined flour breakfast cereal for a brand that contains at least 8 grams of whole grain per serving.
- For a whole-grain breakfast twist, try an "oatmeal parfait" using one of these delicious recipes from Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien.
- Substitute plain bagels with whole-wheat toast or whole-grain bagels. Substitute pastries with low-fat, bran muffins. Make sandwiches using whole-grain breads or rolls. Swap out white-flour tortillas with whole-wheat versions.
- Replace white rice with kasha, brown rice, wild rice, or bulgur. Feature wild rice or barley in soups, stews, casseroles and salads.
- Add whole grains, such as cooked brown rice or whole-grain bread crumbs, to ground meat or poultry for extra body (such as in meatloaf).
- Use rolled oats or crushed bran cereal in recipes instead of dry bread crumbs.
- Remember that popcorn is a whole grain, and can be a healthful snack — just watch the butter and salt!