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The Good in (Whole) Grains

Farro, a delicious whole grain known for its distinctive chewy texture and nutty flavor, is a perfect addition to any salad. Ellie Lane, ©2020, Clemson Extension

Farro, a delicious whole grain known for its distinctive chewy texture and nutty flavor, is a perfect addition to any salad.
Ellie Lane, ©2020, Clemson Extension

September marks the beginning of National Whole Grains Month, which places all our favorite comfort foods such as pasta, bread, cereals, and popcorn on the pedestal they so lovingly deserve. Consuming whole grain versions of these foods contributes to a healthy diet as whole grains provide abundant nutrients in the form of dietary fiber, quality carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends making half your grain choices whole grains because they provide more nutrients than refined grains.

All grains begin as whole grains, but refined grains are different due to processing that removes parts of their original seed. This processing results in a loss of nutrients and flavor. A grain or grain ingredient counts as whole grain if it contains all three original seed components: the vitamin and mineral-rich germ, the fibrous bran, and the starchy endosperm. The health benefits of whole grains are largely associated with consuming the entire grain “package”, therefore emphasizing the importance of choosing whole grains as often as possible.

Anatomy of a whole grain. International Food Information Council Foundation, 2009 https://foodinsight.org/whole-grains-fact-sheet/

Anatomy of a whole grain.
International Food Information Council Foundation, 2009 https://foodinsight.org/whole-grains-fact-sheet/

Whole grains have been linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, better blood sugar control in people with diabetes, slower cognitive decline in aging, healthy digestion, improved metabolism, lower BMI and obesity, lower LDL cholesterol, and overall successful aging (absence of disability, respiratory problems, chronic disease, and depression). As you plan your next meal or roam the aisles of the grocery store, recall the health benefits of whole grains, and strive to make at least three of your recommended six servings of grains per day whole grains.

How do I know if a food is 100% whole grain or contains whole grains?

  • Look for the Whole Grain Stamp label on packages to identify foods that contain significant amounts of whole grains. The stamp will tell you how many grams of whole grain are in one serving of the product.
  • Get in the habit of reading nutrition labels. Look for the words “whole”, “whole grain”, or “100% whole grain” listed first in the ingredients. Read nutrition labels with a critical eye – words like multi-grain, stone-ground, cracked wheat, enriched wheat flour, wheat, 100% wheat, seven-grain, and bran are usually not whole grain foods.

How can I include more whole grain foods in my diet?

  • Try simple switches to make half your grains whole grains. Substitute whole grains for your favorite refined grains and refined-grain products (i.e., choose brown rice or whole wheat crackers instead of their refined counterparts).
  • Gradually introduce whole grains into your diet by combining whole-grain foods with refined-grain foods until you have adjusted to the new flavor and texture.
  • Be a good role model for others around you. Set an example for children and loved ones by eating whole grains every day as snacks or with meals.
  • Be a smart shopper by checking food labels for evidence of whole grains. If the product contains lots of refined ingredients, consider placing it back on the shelf for a better option.

For more information about whole grains and their selection and storage, see HGIC 4019, Whole Grains and HGIC 3485, Selecting and Storing Cereal & Grains.

Sources

  1. Åberg, S., Mann, J., Neumann, S., Ross, A. B., & Reynolds, A. N. (2020). Whole-Grain Processing and Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Trial. Diabetes Care, 43(8), 1717-1723. doi:10.2337/dc20-0263
  2. Ellis, R. (2019, September 18). What Is a Whole Grain? Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/what-is-a-whole-grain
  3. Hu Y, Ding M, Sampson L, et al. Intake of whole grain foods and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 2020;370:m2206. Published 2020 Jul 8. doi:10.1136/bmj.m2206
  4. Insight, F. (2019, February 20). Whole Grains Fact Sheet. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://foodinsight.org/whole-grains-fact-sheet/
  5. Just the Facts: Nutritional Benefits of Grains, Grain Foods Foundation. (2018, September 12). Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://grainfoodsfoundation.org/grain_facts/just-the-facts-nutritional-benefits-of-grains/
  6. Reynolds AN, Mann J, Elbalshy M, et al. Wholegrain Particle Size Influences Postprandial Glycemia in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Study Comparing Four Wholegrain Breads. Diabetes Care. 2020;43(2):476-479. doi:10.2337/dc19-1466
  7. 10 Tips: Choosing Whole-Grain Foods. (2016, January). Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/ten-tips-choosing-whole-grain-foods
  8. 10 Tips to Help You Eat Whole Grains. (2012, August 13). Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2012/08/13/10-tips-help-you-eat-whole-grains
  9. Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/whole-grains-refined-grains-and-dietary-fiber
  10. Xu X, Ling M, Inglis SC, Hickman L, Parker D. Eating and healthy ageing: a longitudinal study on the association between food consumption, memory loss and its comorbidities. Int J Public Health. 2020;65(5):571-582. doi:10.1007/s00038-020-01337-y

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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