Vary your whole grains

Trying new and different whole grain foods adds interest and flavor to meals and snacks.

MyPyramid and the new MyPlate recommend that adults get six to 11 ounces of grains in our diet daily, and half of them should be whole grains. Whole grains provide far more fiber, B Vitamins and other nutrients than process grains. A product that is whole grain is one in which the whole part of the grain is used, including the bran and germ, which contain the fiber and many of the nutrients. Examples include whole wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal, whole cornmeal and brown rice.

To increase your whole grains, Michigan State University Extension suggests substituting a whole-grain product for a refined-grain product. Try whole wheat pasta or brown rice in your casseroles and skillet dinners. Other ways to increase whole grains include eating whole wheat bread instead of white bread, and having whole grain breakfast cereals in the morning. Look for whole-grain stamps on packages, especially stamps that say “100% whole grain.” Venture into different whole grains like quinoa, couscous, bulgar and wild rice. Most of them are quick to cook and can be blended with other grains or into meals.

Amaranth is not a true grain, but it is used like one in cereals, breads, muffins, crackers and pancakes. Amaranth is higher in protein than other grains, and considered to be a complete protein. Its flavor can be light and nutty to lively and peppery, making it an interesting ingredient in muffins, breads, soups and cereals. Amaranth can be boiled in water and enjoyed as is, added to other cooked cereals and used as a thickener in desserts.

Bulgar is made from wheat that has been boiled, dried and cracked. It is quick to cook and can be used like rice with many dishes including salads and tabouleh. Barley is usually most well known in soups, and it is also a healthy whole grain. Pearled barley has had more fiber removed than hulled or whole barley. Oats are another familiar and versatile whole grain. Regular and old-fashioned oats are steamed and flattened, whereas steel-cut oats are sliced whole and have a nuttier texture. Besides used as a breakfast cereal, oats can be used in desserts, breads and muffins and snacks, and are high in anti-oxidants and cholesterol reducing fiber.

Whole grain foods provide a balanced source of many nutrients our bodies need, including carbohydrates, protein, fiber, iron, folic acid, B-vitamins, potassium and antioxidants for growth, development and metabolism. In addition, whole grains are an excellent source of fiber. Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that provides bulk to the foods we eat. This bulk helps us feel full faster and slows the digestion and absorption process to help with blood sugar control and give us a sense of fullness sooner than low-fiber foods. Other health benefits of eating whole grains include reduced chances of some cancers, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

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