We’re seeing it and hearing it everywhere. Whole grains, and the foods made from them, are good for us, and by far preferable to refined grains, such as white rice or white flour. We’ve know forever that whole wheat bread should be chosen over white bread. The four basic food groups dietary information that many of us grew up with has now turned into a whole food pyramid. We want to lower our cholesterol and blood pressure, lose weight and reduce our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Most of us want to be healthy people these days and being healthy means eating a diet full of whole grains. Everyone knows that, right?
That’s what I thought. I thought that most people knew that a change had come and that when it came to grains, white was out. I know that in recent years I have altered my diet in numerous ways to incorporate more whole grains foods. I only use brown rice and whole wheat pasta now. I haven’t had a slice of white bread in 3 decades, or anything less than a good multigrain bread in the last several years. I dump oatmeal and flax seed into everything. I check to be certain that any boxed cereals I buy contain 100% whole grains.
In 2005, The American Dietary Guidelines began to recommend 3-5 servings of whole grains a day for adults, and 2 servings a day for children. Yet, despite these recommendations and attempts made by our doctors, media, the food industry and others, to inform us of the importance of whole grains in our diet, the average American eats less than one serving of whole grains a day. According to The Whole Grains Council, some 40% of Americans never eat whole grains at all! This information was shocking to me and since reading the startling statistics, I have become a crusader for increased whole grain consumption.
I have begun this crusade in my own home, with my white bread loving husband. He’s pretty average. He’s 45 years old, moderately active, and a tad overweight. He’s well educated and thinks that he’s health conscious. He’s got his head in the sand, and it would seem that he’s not alone. So, as with anything, the first step is educating him regarding the importance whole grains., as well as why are they better and exactly how much of these whole grains we need to eat a day. I am a keep it simple kind of woman, so this article is aimed at simple education about the what, why and how to, of whole grains.
What Is A Whole Grain?
So, what is considered a whole grain? Simply put, whole grains are very minimally processed. Because of this lack of processing, a whole grain, whether it be cooked, rolled or cracked, or any food made with a whole grain, retains nearly all of the nutrients and benefits if the original grain. All of the bran and the germ is still present, along with the many nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and protein that are stripped away by the processing of the grain. The most well known whole grains are wheat berries from which whole wheat flour is made, brown rice, millet, oatmeal, cornmeal and popcorn, as well as buckwheat, barley, bulgur, spelt and rye. There are other, more obscure, whole grains, but we are keeping it simple, right?
What Constitutes A Serving of Whole Grains?
Many people are confused as to what a serving is when it comes to whole grains, or most other foods, for that matter. Roughly speaking, 1/2 cup of brown rice, cooked wheat berries, brown rice, cooked whole grain cereals, such as oatmeal, and cooked whole wheat pasta equals a serving of whole grains. One slice of whole grain bread equals a serving as does a very small whole grain muffin,1/2 of a whole wheat english muffin or a corn tortilla.
One cup of 100% whole grain cold cereal equals a serving, as does a cup of popcorn. Yes, popcorn! So, a serving of whole grains is a pretty small amount, not the truck load that many imagine it to be. One bowl of oatmeal or 100% whole grain cold cereal for breakfast, a sandwich made from 100% whole wheat or rye bread at lunch time, and a small corn muffin or 1/2 cup of brown rice for dinner and you’ve met the whole grain requirements for a day.
Why Are Many Not Eating Whole Grains, And Why Should They, Anyway?
If getting a days worth of whole grains into your body is so easy, then why aren’t more people eating whole grains? A lot of people simply don’t know how to incorporate whole grains into their diet or how how to prepare them. Others fear that whole wheat bread, pasta or brown rice is bound to taste like cardboard. People simply aren’t aware of how much better, nuttier and more flavorful, whole grain foods taste compared to foods made with processed grains.
Much more importantly, most people are totally unaware of the many and huge health benefits that whole grains provide. Keeping in mind that we are keeping this simple, I will just hit the whole grain health benefit high points. People who consume 3-5 serving of whole grains a day reduce their risk of stroke by 30-36%, are 21-30% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, cut their heart disease risk by 21-25% and are better able to maintain a healthy weight.
If those seriously powerful health benefits don’t have you running for a bowl of oatmeal, then add a reduced risk of asthma, lower cholesterol, decreased risk of colon cancer, healthier blood pressure levels, healthier gums and healthier carotid arteries to the list. Eating whole grains even seems he improve acne! Are you tempted to increase your whole grain consumption now?
Easy Ways To Add Whole Grains To Your Diet.
There are many very easy ways to add more whole grains to your diet. The best place to begin is by looking for the yellow, Whole Grain Stamp on the cereals and other packaged foods that you buy. Any food product bearing the yellow Whole Grain Stamp must contain at least 1/2 of each serving as whole grains. If the yellow Whole Grain Stamp reads 100%, then one serving of that cereal, or whatever, is a complete serving of whole grains. Most name brand cereals, and many store brand cereals contain 100% whole grains, so be on the alert for the yellow Whole Grains Stamp on the front of the box.
Packaged food aside, you can still add more whole grains to your daily diet easily. Eating a bowl of oatmeal, either old fashioned or quick cooking, for breakfast in the morning is a great way to start. Add several tablespoons of canned pumpkin puree, two tablespoons of flax seed, some walnuts and raisins, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and you have a 100% whole grain breakfast packed with powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. The cinnamon not only adds spice to the oatmeal, but also has been show to help control blood sugar levels!
Other quick whole grain breakfast treats include a corn muffin, 100% whole wheat, multigrain or rye toast, or French toast made with 100% whole wheat or multigrain bread. Bran muffins, unless they are made with whole wheat flour, don’t count as bran is only part of the grain, not a whole grain. Pancakes can be punched up by adding quick cooking or old fashioned oatmeal to a complete pancake mix and adding water until it’s the right pancake batter consistency. Toss in some flax seed while you’re at it, too. Add in some mashed, very ripe banana, blueberries, or pumpkin puree and cinnamon and you’ve made your pancakes all the more healthful.
Of course, by now you’ve gotten rid of any and all white breads and are using whole grain breads exclusively, so any sandwich made with two slices of whole grain bread contains two full servings of whole grains! Use whole wheat pita bread for pocket sandwiches and look for whole wheat lavosh bread for making tasty wraps. If you’re having canned soup, add in some brown rice, barley or cooked wheat berries. Cook several servings of brown rice or wheat berries in advance, when you have the time, as both take 45 minute to an hour to cook, then store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. Then simply add a 1/2 cup serving of either brown rice, wheat berries or barley to your tomato or vegetable soup.
Have some delicious taboulleh, which is made from bulgur wheat, as a side dish or a meal in it’s self. It’s great stuffed into a whole wheat pita pocket along with feta cheese or hummus. Bulgur wheat cooks very quickly by adding boiling water and letting sit for 10 minutes, so taboulleh a quick to prepare salad whether you use a packaged mix or make it from scratch.
My favorite power lunch is made from 1 cup of berries and one cup of another fruit. I add a fistful of uncooked, whole oatmeal, a few tablespoons of flax seed and cinnamon. I mix it all of this vitamin and antioxidant rich stuff up with a 6 ounce container of low fat or light yogurt, either plain or flavored. This is a lunch that quick, portable, refreshing on a hot summer day, and you won’t be hungry for a long time.
Dinner and Beyond
Having now tossed out your white rice in favor of brown rice, you can make rice pilafs that are so much more flavorful than ones made with white rice. Wheat berries and barley make wonderful pilafs, too. Cook the grains in chicken, beef or vegetable broth and add the seasonings of your choice…garlic, basil, oregano, dill, curry powder make good choices to start.
Change your pasta from white to whole wheat, as well. You can find most pasta shapes available in whole wheat form, so it’s easy to use them in your current pasta recipes. The taste difference is not as drastic as you might imagine and whole wheat pasta cooks in the same time as plain pasta. If the thought of whole wheat pasta still scares you, start by using half whole wheat and half regular pasta as a way of easing yourself, and family, into loving whole wheat pasta.
Desserts and snacks can pack a whole grain wallop, too. A simple apple crisp made with an oatmeal topping makes a serving of whole grains. When making cookies or quick breads, substitute at least 1/2, or more, of the flour called for in the recipe with whole wheat flower. You’re kids won’t know. Mine don’t notice at all when I make them oatmeal cookies with 3/4 spelt flour, instead of white.
Add oatmeal to your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, or find a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie recipe. And remember those “no bake” cookies from your childhood? Well, they still taste great, are quick to make, and all of that oatmeal makes them very whole grain friendly. Don’t forget to include a few tablespoons of flax seed to add those omega 3’s, too! Oatmeal spice cakes with a broiled walnut and coconut topping, carrot cakes made with whole wheat pastry flour, the dessert possibilities are endless. It is my hope, that with the little bit of information that I’ve provided about the wonderful world of whole grains, that soon you’re appetite for new ways that you use whole grains will be endless, too.