Skip to main content

Nutrition Moment: Get Your Grains!

Incorporating whole grains into your diet can be a good source of nutrition, improve health, and make meals more exciting. A diet rich in whole grains may improve gastrointestinal symptoms, reduce risk for heart disease and Type-2 diabetes, and reduce cancer risk and systemic inflammation.

While diets emphasizing extremely low amounts of carbohydrates have recently become popular, differentiating between “empty” carbohydrates that lack meaningful nutrition and “healthy” carbohydrates is important.

Healthy grains are whole grains that contain the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm. These grains provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients essential to a healthy diet. Whole grains also keep you feeling full longer than “empty” carbohydrates, which can help you eat less and make it easier to maintain a healthy weight while maintaining a steady blood sugar over longer periods of time.

Refined grains, which often provide “empty” carbohydrates, are stripped of the brain and germ in processing leaving only the endosperm or inner portion of the grain. This process also removes most of the dietary fiber, iron, and other nutrients from the grain. Governmental dietary guidelines for 2015-2020 recommend Americans consume at least half of all grains as whole grains.

Adding more healthy grains into your diet begins with a mindful approach to food shopping.

Shopping Smart

  • Look for products listing whole-grain ingredients first on the ingredient list such as brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal popcorn, quinoa, rolled oats, wild rice and ingredients listed as “whole-grain” or “whole”.
  • Choose foods that don’t contain added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, honey, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, and raw sugar.
  • Check the sodium content in packaged foods. There can be a wide range of amounts of sodium used in these products.
  • Food product marketing can be deceiving. Products labeled “multi-grain”, “stone-ground”, “100% wheat”, “cracked wheat”, “seven grain”, or “bran” are usually not 100% whole-grain products.
  • If you eat a gluten-free diet, whole-grain options include buckwheat, certified gluten-free oats or oatmeal, popcorn, brown and wild rice, and quinoa.

Whole Grains at Home

  • Ensure whole-grain products are packaged properly and well-sealed. They should look and smell fresh.
  • Grains should be stored in containers with tight-fitting lids and kept in a cool, dry location to maintain freshness and reduce spoilage.
  • Storing whole-grain bread at room temperature in sealed packaging will prolong freshness. Refrigeration will dry bread out making it stale, but it can be frozen if properly wrapped.
  • Knowing how long products stay good is important to ensuring you always have whole grains ready to use. If not properly stored, over time the oils in whole-grain products can cause spoilage.

Working Whole Grains into Meals

  • Substitute whole-grain products for refined products. Using whole-wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, and whole-wheat flour to replace white flour is a great start.
  • Try whole-wheat pasta instead of traditional white-flour pasta is an easy way to add whole grains to your diet.
  • Work whole grains into recipes like adding barley to soup or bulgur wheat to a baked dish.
  • Combine whole grain rice options to make a pilaf using barley, wild rice, and brown rice.
  • Substitute whole-grain flour for white flour in recipes. Start by splitting the required amount of flour between whole-grain and white for desired results. You may need to add a bit of extra leavening agent to compensate for the adjustment.
  • Food planning can help with time management. Making large batches of oatmeal or rice to use for multiple meals can reduce meal preparation time.
  • Snacking on whole-grain foods can be tasty. Whole-grain cereals and crackers can substitute for refined-carbohydrate snacks, and popcorn can be a healthy whole grain snack without adding large amounts of butter or salt.

Whole Grains for Kids

  • Set a good example by eating healthy in front of the kids so there’s no double standard.
  • Allow children to choose their snacks and get involved with meal planning using healthy grain options can be empowering.
  • Teach kids to read food labels and make informed decisions based on product ingredients to set a foundation for a lifetime of healthy food choices.

Incorporating more whole grains in your diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. By making some simple changes to the way you eat, you can ensure you’re eating a well-balanced diet and taking care of yourself.