When it come to choosing grains, whole grains are the healthiest option. Learn what whole grains are and how you can eat more of them.
Adding more whole grains to your diet is a healthy idea. Not only do they provide you with essential vitamins and nutrients, but they also help you “up” your dietary fiber intake, which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. It can also help improve other health issues, like constipation.
What are whole grains exactly?
Grains are divided into two groups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains are made from whole seeds that include three elements:
- Bran: the outer skin of the seed
- Germ: the embryo, which can grow into a new plant
- Endosperm: provides nutrition to the germ
Examples of whole grains include whole wheat flour, oatmeal and brown rice.
Refined grains are milled, a process that strips the seed of the bran and germ, which reduces the amount of dietary fiber, protein and other nutrients. Examples of refined grains include white flour, rice or pasta.
How much should we eat daily?
“Adults should aim to eat at least three servings of whole grains each day, but most only get about one,” says Sharon Madalis, registered dietitian nutritionist at Geisinger. “As a simple guideline, try to work whole grains into every meal.”
Not sure where to start? Here are a few ways to get more whole grains in:
Oatmeal is a great option, and the fiber will help keep you full longer. Not a fan of oatmeal? Try topping it with fresh fruit, like bananas or berries, a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter or try adding some spices, like cinnamon or nutmeg.
Rye bread, or toast, as long as the ingredients include whole rye or rye berries, is a good yet little-known source of whole grains. Whole grain bread is also a great option for toast.
“Buckwheat pancakes are another healthy option, but try not to overdo it with toppings like butter, whipped cream or syrup,” adds Madalis.
Try making sandwiches on whole grain bread, such as whole wheat. But remember: all whole wheat bread is whole grain, but not all whole grain bread is whole wheat.
“To make sure you’re buying 100 percent whole wheat bread, look at the ingredients list on the back of the package,” Madalis explains. “The first ingredient should be ‘whole wheat flour’ or ‘100% whole wheat flour’.”
Watch out for buzzwords you may see on packaging. If the box or bag has a term such as “multigrain” or “seven-grain,” it doesn’t mean the food is whole grain.
Try breading skinless chicken breasts with whole grain bread crumbs or cook up some whole wheat pasta, brown or wild rice to enjoy with your dinner. Barley soup is also delicious and easy to prepare.
Trying to eat less meat? Have some quinoa.
“Not only is quinoa a good source of whole grains, it also happens to be a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids,” Madalis says. “That’s why quinoa is an especially good option if you don’t eat meat or are trying to limit your meat consumption.”
If you want to snack in between meals, air-popped popcorn is a quality whole-grain, low calorie option. “Just be sure to stay away from bagged microwavable popcorn, because it does have a lot of calories, sodium and other additives,” says Madalis.
Brown rice cakes and whole wheat crackers are other whole grain snack options. They can also help boost your daily intake of nutrients from whole grains, which include B vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals such as zinc, magnesium, copper and iron.
Reaping the benefits
There’s no doubt that replacing refined grains with whole grains delivers a wide variety of health benefits. Not only are they packed with nutrients and fiber (to support healthy digestion), they can also reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and can help reduce inflammation in the body, which is a key factor in many chronic (long-term) diseases.
Small changes can make a big impact, so why not start today?