You might not yet know the difference between whole-grain foods and refined grain foods, but chances are you’re probably already including some whole-grain foods in your diet. If you have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or some popcorn at the movies, you are eating whole-grain foods. The first thing you should know about whole grains is that they have more nutrition than refined grains, are better for your heart, and can help you lose weight.
Whole-grain foods are made from the entire grain seed. When a whole grain like wheat or rice is crushed, cracked, or cooked in processing, parts of the grain kernel, such as the bran and the germ, can be lost and, along with them, some of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals. According to the FDA, for a food to call itself “whole grain,” it must contain at least 51 percent whole grain.
Whole Grain Foods: The Benefits
“Whole-grain foods are an important part of any healthy diet. If you are trying to lose weight or eat a heart-healthy diet, you need to include whole grains. Whole grains are one of the best examples of choosing quality calories over empty calories,” says Eric Plasker, DC, author of The 100 Year Lifestyle and a health, wellness, and nutrition expert who travels the country giving seminars on well-being and living a healthy balanced life.
Here’s why Plasker recommends whole-grain foods:
- Nutritional benefits. Whole grains are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. “Whole grains are high in fiber, so they help regulate your digestion,” he says.
- Health benefits. Research shows that whole grains reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
- Weight loss. “Because whole grains are more filling, they help you eat less and can help you lose weight,” advises Plasker. People who regularly include whole grains in their diet have a lower risk of obesity and lower cholesterol levels.
Whole Grain Foods: Portion Guidelines
In 2005, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued every five years by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, separated its recommendation for whole grains from refined grains for the first time. They encourage all Americans to include at least three one-ounce servings of whole grains every day, half the suggested total in the grains category. Before 2003, although Americans were eating about 10 servings of grain every day, only one serving was from whole grain.
Here are some examples of whole-grain foods:
- Brown rice
- Whole-grain corn
- Whole rye
- Wild rice
- Whole wheat
- Whole oats
Whole Grain Foods: Making the Switch
If you grew up eating white bread, switching to whole-wheat bread can be somewhat of an adjustment. Factors that determine if consumers will make the switch to whole-grain foods include convenience, cost, and taste, but surveys show that taste is the most important factor.
Once you get used to whole grains, you may find that they have more taste and texture. “You can tell the difference just by picking up a package of whole-grain bread and white bread. The whole-grain package is heavier. It won’t make you heavier, but it will fill you up with flavor and nutrition,” says Plasker.