When you’re browsing your local supermarket in search of healthy grain options, it can be hard to know what’s really good for your family and what isn’t just by reading the front of a box of pasta or bag of bread.

When it comes to choosing grains, whole grains are the healthiest option — research shows that fitting more whole grains in your diet can help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. In fact, in 10 different studies that analyzed whole grain intake, participants who regularly ate whole grains, were 16 percent less likely to die of any unnatural cause.

The food industry uses many different terms that might sound like whole grain to play up the nutritional quality of a product. Therefore, it’s important to know that true whole grains are made from whole seeds that are comprised of 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

Refined grain products like white flour, rice or pasta, strip the seed of the bran and germ, which reduces its amount of protein and about 17 other nutrients.

The research also showed that every 16 grams of whole grains you eat (equal to about one slice of whole grain bread or half a cup of brown rice) can noticeably reduce your cancer and cardiovascular disease risks.

“You’re supposed to eat at least three servings of whole grains every day, although most Americans get about one,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Ashley Reese, RDN, LDN, Geisinger Wellness.

Here are a few ways you can fit more whole grains into your diet in each meal:

Breakfast

Oatmeal is a good option, and the fiber will help keep you full. 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.

“Buckwheat pancakes are another healthy option as long as you don’t overdo it with toppings like butter, whipped cream or syrup,” said Reese.

Lunch

Make sandwiches on whole grain bread, such as whole wheat. But keep this in mind: all whole wheat bread is whole grain, but not all whole grain bread is whole wheat.

Barley soup is also easy to prepare.

Dinner


Not only is quinoa a good whole grain source, it also happens to be a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids. That’s why quinoa is an especially good option if you don’t eat meat, or are trying to limit your meat consumption. You can round out the menu with other items such as corn, whole wheat pasta and wild or brown rice.

“If you want to snack in between meals, air-popped popcorn is a quality whole-grain, low calorie option,” said Reese. “Just make sure to stay away from bagged microwavable popcorn, because it does have a lot of calories, sodium and other additives.”

Brown rice cakes and whole wheat crackers are other whole grain snack options. They can help bolster your daily intake of nutrients from whole grains, which include B vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals such as zinc, magnesium, copper and iron.

Lastly, watch out for certain buzzwords you’re likely to see on packaging. Just because the box or bag has a term such as “multigrain” or “seven-grain” doesn’t mean it’s actually whole grain. Make sure the nutrition facts list a whole grain flour, such as whole wheat, as the first ingredient.