Whole grains. You hear they're good for you. But do you know why—or where to find them?
Read on for answers to these and other common questions about whole grains.
What's a whole grain?
Grains such as wheat, corn, rice and barley are made up of three parts: the bran, germ and endosperm. A whole grain includes all three of these parts. With refined grains such as white flour and white rice, the bran and germ are removed during processing.
How do whole grains effect health?
Research shows that eating recommended amounts of whole grains may help lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Studies also show that people who eat more whole grains have healthier body weights.
The health benefits of whole grains are thought to come from the effects of nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients working together.
How much whole grain should I eat?
Most Americans eat enough grains, but few are whole grains. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making at least half of all the grains you eat whole grains.
In general, one serving of whole grain equals:
1 slice of whole-grain bread (e.g., 100% whole-wheat bread)
1 cup of ready-to-eat whole-grain cereal
½-cup of cooked brown rice, whole-grain pasta or whole-grain cereal
5 small whole-wheat crackers or 2 rye crisp breads
1 small whole-grain waffle
How can I find whole grain foods?
Try these tips:
Check the label and ingredient list. The product is a whole grain if the package label or the first ingredient contains the word "whole," such as "whole-wheat bread," "whole oats" or "whole-wheat flour." Terms like "multi-grain," "100% wheat" or "stone-ground" don't mean "whole-grain."
Look for a whole-grain stamp. Some products carry a stamp stating that the food is 100% whole grain. This means that all the grain ingredients are whole grain and contain at least 16 grams of whole grain per serving. A stamp on products made with a mix of whole grain and refined grain means they contain at least 8 grams of whole grain per serving. Both stamps tell you how many grams of whole grain are in a serving of the product. Totaling up 48 grams of whole grain per day will give you the recommended three servings.
Check for a whole-grain health claim. Some products carry a health claim on the package stating, "Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers." This claim signals a whole-grain food.
How can I get more whole grain foods in my diet?
Getting more whole grain foods is easy—and tastes great! Here's how:
Eat a whole-grain cereal or whole-grain bagel or muffin for breakfast.
Use whole-grain breads and rolls and whole-wheat or corn tortillas in place of refined varieties.
Twirl whole-wheat or whole-grain spaghetti in your bowl.
Enjoy whole-grain side dishes such as brown rice, quinoa, bulgur and barley.
Substitute at least half whole-wheat flour for the amount of white flour called for in recipes for cookies, muffins, pancakes and breads.
Mix uncooked oats or whole-wheat bread crumbs into meatballs and meatloaf.
Munch on popcorn—yes, it's a whole-grain! Just go light on the butter or sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese and spices instead.