What is a whole grain, and how do I make sure I’m eating them?
Dear Goodness Grains:
A whole grain has three parts: the endosperm, bran and germ. Refined grains like white flour have only the starchy endosperm. Without the germ, you lose valuable nutrients and without the bran you miss out on a rich source of fiber. Ideally, we would only eat whole grains. However, that is not practical for everyone. At a minimum, have half of your grain choices be whole grains. Are you usually consuming all refined grains? Focus on progress from there! 51% whole grain is a huge improvement from all refined wheat.
A healthy eating pattern is varied. For many Americans, we rely on wheat. I would recommend also including brown rice, corn, quinoa, oats and barley on regular rotation. Having wheat cereal for breakfast, a wheat bread sandwich for lunch, cheese and crackers for snack and whole wheat spaghetti for dinner is plentiful in whole grains, but stingy in variety. Instead, try oatmeal for breakfast, keep the sandwich for lunch, enjoy fresh popcorn for snack and top brown rice with stir a fry for dinner.
Feeling more adventurous? Give teff, millet, wild rice, amaranth or buckwheat a try. A healthy eating pattern is also moderate in size. Many people rely too heavily on starchy foods. A good portion size of starchy foods is about the size of one of your own fists. Popcorn and puffed cereal are an exceptions to this rule.
If choosing a packaged grain food, your ingredient labels are the key to navigating whole grains. The ingredients are listed from the most to the least item in the food. The first grain should be whole grain. If it says “enriched,” it is a refined grain product.
Remember that “multigrain” is not the same thing as “whole grain.” Multigrain simply means that the product contains several kinds of grains, whether or not they are whole or refined. I have seen several packages of 9- and 12-grain breads where the first ingredient is refined white flour!
Note: whole grain white flour is made from a low-protein variety that substitutes well for white flour in many recipes, such as muffins. It is an “albino” variety of wheat and does count as a whole grain choice.
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