Despite all the current fuss over carbs and gluten, breads, cereals and pastas are comfort foods. And you can find a better-for-you choice if you know what to look for.
First, the basics. There are two types of grain products:
- Whole Grains contain the entire grain – the bran, germ and endosperm. (TMI, right?)
- Refined Grains have been milled (ground into flour or meal) which removes the bran and germ. This gives them a finer texture and improves their shelf life (yay) but strips the grain of important nutrients you need, including B-vitamins, iron, and dietary fiber (boo). Examples include white and wheat flours, enriched breads, and white rice. Now, refined grains are often enriched, which means that some of the B vitamins and iron are added back in after processing. That’s cool, but fiber might not be added back.
So when it comes to your health, Whole Grains are where it’s at. And here’s why:
- Many whole grains are good sources of dietary fiber, which we all need. Most refined grains contain little or no fiber.
- Dietary fiber can help you improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and even type 2 diabetes. Fiber for the win!
- And here’s an awesome bonus if you’re trying to lose weight: fiber can help you feel full, so you’ll be satisfied with less calories.
- In addition to fiber, grains provide nutrients like thiamin (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin (Vitamin B3), folate (Vitamin B9), iron, magnesium and selenium. These are all important for a variety of body functions like forming new cells, carrying oxygen in the blood, regulating the thyroid, and maintaining a healthy immune system. Pretty basic stuff.
Shopping Tip: When you’re planning out your meals and snacks for the week, it’s important to include a variety of grains because they can differ in their nutrient content.
How to Identify Whole Grains
Think you can identify something with whole grain by color? Think again. Bread, for example, can be brown because of molasses or other ingredients, not necessarily because it contains whole grains. This is why it’s so important to get into the habit of reading nutrition labels. For most whole grain products you’ll see the words “whole” or “whole grain” first on the ingredient list.
Here are some common whole grain foods:
- Whole wheat
- Graham flour
- Whole oats
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Whole grain corn
- Whole grain barley
Are You Getting Enough?
The AHA recommends that at least half of the grains you eat are whole grains. Here are some examples of a serving of whole grains:
- 1 slice whole-grain bread (such as 100% whole-wheat bread)
- 1 cup ready-to-eat, whole-grain cereal
- 1⁄2 cup cooked whole-grain cereal, brown rice, or whole-wheat pasta
- 5 whole-grain crackers
- 3 cups unsalted, air-popped popcorn
- 1 6-inch whole-wheat tortilla
Also, try to get your fiber from foods rather than supplements. The FDA recommends 25 grams of fiber each day for a 2,000 calorie diet. Your need may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Not a fan of grains? Fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans and peas can all be good sources of dietary fiber, too.
And that’s all you ever wanted to know about whole grains and fiber.