Eat healthy with whole grains

Whole grains are an important part of your diet. Learn how to make half of your grains whole.

The United States Department of Agriculture recently unveiled MyPlate. This nutrition tool illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet while using a familiar image – a place setting for a meal. Each of these food groups provide us with important nutrients. One area of the plate that Americans have little trouble consuming is grains. Unfortunately most of the grains that we eat are refined instead of whole grains. One of the key recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 is to make sure that at least half of all grains we eat are whole grains. For the average American, this equates to three whole grain servings out of six daily grain servings.

All grains start out as whole grains. In their natural state growing in the field, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant. The seed has three parts: the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. A food has to have the same proportion of the three components of the intact grain to be labeled whole grain. Some examples of whole grains include wheat, oats, corn and cornmeal, popcorn, brown and wild rice, and barley.

Refined grains are different than whole grains because they have been milled. Milling is a process which removes the bran and germ. This gives grains a finer texture and improves their shelf life, but it also removes many powerful nutrients like iron, B vitamins. Milling also reduces dietary fiber. Some examples of refined grain products are white flour, noodles, flour tortillas, pretzels, and white rice.

Whole grains are a good source of nutrients like iron, magnesium, B vitamins and dietary fiber. As noted by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, there is evidence indicating that eating whole grains may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and is associated with a lower body weight.

To tell if a food is comprised of a whole grain, read the ingredient list on the label. Manufacturer’s product descriptions can be tricky so be sure to read carefully. By law, the first ingredient listed is present in the greatest amount by weight. For a product to be whole grain, the first ingredient should be whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, or whole grain barley. Products may be labeled as enriched, wheat flour, multi-grain, or seven-grain. Those products are refined grains. Remember - if it doesn’t say whole grain or whole wheat, it’s not.

To eat more whole grains, start by making some simple changes. Try substituting brown rice for white rice or use whole-wheat bread for white bread. We all hear the importance of a healthy lifestyle which plays a part in maintaining a healthy weight and disease prevention. Making half your grains whole is a simple step. For more information on how to make healthy food choices, visit for more details on serving sizes based on your activity level and age.

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