We're celebrating Whole Grains Month this September by highlighting the benefits of eating this important source of nutrients. Americans eat enough grains on average, but most of the time these are refined grains, such as those found in white bread and white rice. Refined grains, when not enriched or fortified, can lack fiber, minerals, and many B vitamins found in whole grains. Don't miss out on those nutrients; choose whole grains at least half the time.
Eating grains, especially whole grains, provides many nutrients that are vital for good health, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins, and minerals.
- People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Dietary fiber from whole grains or other foods may help reduce blood cholesterol levels, and may lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
- Fiber is important for proper bowel function, helping to reduce constipation and diverticulosis.
- Fiber-containing foods such as whole grains can help with weight management by providing a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.
- Thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin play a key role in metabolism, helping the body release energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
- Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Women who may become pregnant will want to consume adequate folate from foods in addition to 400 mcg of synthetic folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This will help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.
- Iron carries oxygen through the bloodstream. Many teenage girls and women in their childbearing years are at risk for iron-deficiency anemia, and should eat foods high in iron. Iron in food comes in two forms: heme iron and nonheme iron. The heme iron, predominantly found in meat or seafood, is more absorbable than the nonheme iron, found in plant foods and iron-fortified food products. Combining the two at one meal helps, as does consuming iron with foods high in vitamin C. Whole and enriched refined grains are good sources of nonheme iron.
- Magnesium and selenium are also found in whole grains. Magnesium is important for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. Selenium is important for reproduction, thyroid gland function, DNA production, and protecting the body from infection.
Your Daily Whole Grains
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that all Americans ages 9 and up make at least half of their grains whole grains, about 3 to 5 servings of whole grains every day. The amount of calories you need may vary according to your age and activity level.
- 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 slice 100% whole-wheat bread
- 1 cup 100% whole-grain ready-to-eat cereal
Know Your Whole Grains
Choose foods that feature one of the following whole grains first on the label's ingredient list: brown rice, bulgur, graham flour, oatmeal, whole-grain corn, whole oats, whole rye, or whole wheat.
1. Make simple switches with grains you typically eat. For example, eat 100% whole-wheat bread or bagels instead of white bread or bagels, or brown rice instead of white rice.
2. Bake some whole-grain goodness. Experiment by substituting whole wheat, spelt, or oat flour to half of the flour in your favorite baked goods such as pancakes, waffles, muffins, and breads.
3. Try whole-grain versions of some favorite recipes. For example, try brown rice stuffing in baked bell peppers or tomatoes, and whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese.
4. Experiment with ancient grains, including farro and quinoa. Cooking most grains is similar to cooking rice. For more direction on how to cook whole grains, visit the Whole Grains Council.
5. Snack on ready-to-eat whole-grain cereals, such as toasted oat cereal. Add whole-grain flour or oatmeal when making cookies or other baked treats. Try 100% whole-grain snack crackers. Popcorn, a whole grain, can be a great snack if made with little or no added salt and butter.
Source: “Nutrients and Health Benefits." United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): ChooseMyPlate.gov. June 12, 2015.
Taking Steps Toward Better Wellness
The journey toward wellness isn't always easy, but there are many great resources that can provide tips and information to help encourage you along the way.