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April 2014

Wanted: Whole Grains in Your Diet

Your local grocery store is brimming with whole grains. While browsing the aisles, you'll find brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and quinoa?to name only a few. These foods can fortify you against diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Are you filling up on enough of them?

Missing whole grains

Whole grains aren't reaching many Americans' plates. A recent study looked at the results of a national health survey. It included more than 9,000 children and adults. The researchers found that too few survey respondents reported eating enough whole grains. In fact, an average of 4 in 10 said they didn't eat any.

More than half of the people surveyed did manage to eat some whole grains. But only 3% of children and 8% of adults ate 3 ounces of them a day. That's the minimum daily amount health experts recommend. Their favorite whole-grain sources were breakfast cereals, bread, oatmeal, and popcorn.

The latest national dietary guidelines recommend that at least half of the grains you eat every day should be whole grains. These are cereal grains that haven't been processed or refined. That means they still include all parts of their seeds, or kernels.

Finding the best sources

Whole grains have essential nutrients for your body. They are an excellent source of magnesium?a bone-building mineral?and selenium?an immune-supporting substance. They also supply a healthy dose of fiber. This aids in digestion and weight control.

Not all whole-grain foods are equally good for you, though. In one recent study, researchers looked at some of the most commonly eaten whole-grain products. These include breakfast cereals, granola bars, bread, crackers, and chips. They discovered that many of these foods had undesirable ingredients, too. They contained high amounts of sugar, sodium, and saturated fat.

To find the whole-grain foods that are good for you, always check the nutrition facts label when shopping. That's important even if the packaging boasts about its quantity of whole grains. In particular, choose foods that list whole grains first. Stay away from those that list unhealthy ingredients in the top 3. Words like "multi-grain," "100% wheat," and "bran" also don't guarantee that a food is whole grain.

 

Eating More Whole Grains

It isn?t hard to fit more whole grains into your diet. Shoot for at least 3 ounces a day. One ounce is equal to 1 slice of whole-wheat bread or a half cup of cooked oatmeal, brown rice, or barley. Here are a few tips to help you eat more whole grains:

  • Swap out refined grain products with whole-grain versions. For instance, choose brown rice instead of white or whole-wheat noodles rather than regular pasta.

  • Add some barley or quinoa to your favorite soup or salad.

  • When baking, substitute whole-wheat flour for up to half of the required regular flour.

  • Bread chicken, veal, or fish with rolled oats or crushed whole-grain cereal.

 

Looking for a healthy whole-grain recipe? Here's one.

 

Online resources

American Heart Association

USDA

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