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.
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.
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