Why Whole Grains?
Lets start with the basics… what is whole grain?
All grains start their life as a whole grain. In their natural state, growing in the fields, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant. This seed (or "kernel") is made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Some examples of whole grain foods are:
Corn, including whole cornmeal and popcorn
Oats, including oatmeal
Rice, both brown rice and colored rice
Sorghum (also called milo)
Wheat, including varieties such as spelt, emmer, farro, einkorn, Kamut®, durum and forms such as bulgur, cracked wheat and wheatberries
Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.
What are the health benefits over non-whole grain food options?
Many families think nothing of going to the grocery store and grabbing their usual enriched white bread, but there are several health benefits to be gained by switching the family to whole grain options. The benefits of whole grains most documented by repeated studies include:
stroke risk reduced 30-36%
type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%
heart disease risk reduced 25-28%
better weight maintenance
There were many other benefits, indicated by recent studies, which include:
reduced risk of asthma
healthier carotid arteries
reduction of inflammatory disease risk
lower risk of colorectal cancer
healthier blood pressure levels
less gum disease and tooth loss
There have been several studies done besides those just mentioned, that show how people, especially children, take to the idea of switching to whole grains. You might assume that kids would balk at the idea of eating healthy, whole grain options, these studies show that the results were really quite positive!
KIDS ACCEPT WHOLE GRAINS IN SCHOOL STUDY
Researchers from the University of Minnesota (including WGC Scientific Advisor Len Marquart) observed students at 10 schools in Minnesota and 7 schools in Texas, to see whether whole grain pancakes and tortillas can readily be substituted for similar refined products. For the study, foods with varying percentages of whole grain content were used. Using both aggregate plate waste measurements and student taste ratings, the scientists noted no difference in whole grain vs. refined grain pancake consumption at both elementary and middle / high schools, while consumption of whole grain tortillas was lower than refined tortillas. In general, elementary students were pickier than middle and high school students, and the use of whole white wheat boosted acceptance over whole red wheat. The researchers concluded that products such as those in the study would increase consumption of whole grains among children and youth.Journal of the American Dietetic Association. September 2011; 111(9):1380-4
PARTIAL SUBSTITUTION OF WHOLE GRAINS BOOSTS KIDS' CONSUMPTION
Recent research has shown that children's acceptance of whole grains varies widely from food to food. Kids will happily consume some foods that are 100% whole grain, while turning down others in which only 10-15% of the grain is whole grain. Using this knowledge, it's possible to design a roadmap for increasing kids' consumption of whole grains, without risking "pushback" – an important consideration, since the only healthy nutrients are those that are actually consumed. In this study, Len Marquart, Elizabeth Arndt, and colleagues modeled the change in whole grain consumption that could be achieved by switching 15% to 50% of the refined grain to whole grain in breads, pizza crusts, pasta, breakfast cereals, muffins, waffles and other foods kids eat daily. They found that, without changing documented eating patterns in the children, they could raise consumption of whole grains from 6% of total grains to 28% of whole grains with this approach, while also reducing demographic disparities. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. September 2011; 111(9):1322-8
Also, grain products are better for your waistline! Grain products are made up of mostly carbohydrates plus some protein. Both carbohydrates and protein provide 4 calories in each gram. This is a lot less than fat, which provides 9 calories in each gram. Recent attention regarding low-carbohydrate diets has resulted in many believing that carbohydrates are fattening. But this is not true. Eating too much food – total calories – leads to an increase in weight. In fact, studies show that people who eat grains, especially whole grains, have lower body mass indices (BMIs) than people who do not include whole grains.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend hat all Americans make half or more of their grains whole grains. For everyone age 9 and up, this means eating 3 to 5 servings or more of whole grains every day. But, what's a serving, you ask? Here are some examples of serving sizes for some common whole grain foods:
- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or other cooked grain
- 1/2 cup cooked 100% whole-grain pasta
- 1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, such as oatmeal
- 1 ounce uncooked whole grain pasta, brown rice or other grain
- 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
- 1 very small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
- 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal
Finding whole grain options – don't be fooled by misleading labels!
Be sure to read the label! True whole grain foods will come with a “100% Whole Grain” stamp, from the whole grains council. You want to make sure that it says “Whole Grain” right on the label. Don't be fooled by labels that claim a product is “MultiGrain” - all that means is that, while they contain a variety of grains, they are not necessarily whole grains, with all of the parts of the seed included. Whole grain is a much healther option.
Grain products like bread, pasta, cornmeal and rice do not contain trans fat. These products are usually low in total fat as well. Some bakery-type products like crackers, cookies, pies, and cakes may contain trans fat. However, many companies are developing new recipes to replace the hydrogenated oils with other sources of fat. Check the Nutrition Facts table on the label.
How to integrate whole grains into your daily life
Now that you know that there are so many health benefits to switching to whole grain options, I'm sure you want to know how to add these whole grains in to your meals! Here are some easy substitutions to make to increase the whole grains in your diet:
Substitute half the white flour with whole wheat flour in your regular recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes. Or be bold and add up to 20% of another whole grain flour such as sorghum.
Replace one third of the flour in a recipe with quick oats or old-fashioned oats.
Add half a cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice, or barley to bread stuffing.
Add half a cup of cooked wheat or rye berries, wild rice, brown rice, sorghum or barley to your favorite canned or home-made soup.
Use whole corn meal for corn cakes, corn breads and corn muffins.
Add three-quarters of a cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey when you make meatballs, burgers or meatloaf.
Stir a handful of rolled oats in your yogurt, for quick crunch with no cooking necessary.
For more tips, suggestions, or to learn even more about whole grains, visit wholegrainscouncil.org
and a very special thank you to Karen Mansur of the Whole Grains Council for visiting the Robin Shea radio show to teach us all about this very iportant part of clean, healthy eating!