Eat More Whole Grains: The Basics

(Important Media) -

Many of us want to seize the opportunity to take better care of our bodies — whether that means losing weight, making it to the gym more often, or eating healthier.

In 2013, I resolve to eat more whole grains!

Longtime white and brown rice eaters, my family and I recently discovered the great taste and healthy advantages of quinoa and barley. Then the other day, my husband sent me an article titled “The Truth About Whole Grains.” After reading it, I now know that quinoa and barley represent just the tip of the great-taste-healthy-whole-grain iceberg. We have a lot to learn — and eat!

What Are Whole Grains?

The Whole Grains Council provides an amazing set of resources for anyone who wants to know more about whole grains. It created an official definition of its namesake ingredient in 2004:

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.

So a whole grain ingredient must contain 100 percent of all three components of the original kernel — the bran, endosperm, and germ. Processing grains typically removes the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm and tossing out about 25 percent of the grain’s protein and at least 17 key nutrients.

Some whole grains float to the top of anyone’s mind: oats, brown rice, wild rice, and certain types of wheat. Others are more obscure: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, and sorghum, to name a few. I’ve also learned that a few are gluten free, so gluten-intolerant eaters can enjoy whole grains while still meeting their dietary needs.

Why Does It Matter?

Many studies tout the benefits of eating more whole grains. According to the Whole Grains Council, repeated studies show that consuming whole grains leads to:

  • a 30 to 36 percent reduction in stroke risk
  • a 21 to 30 percent reduction in type 2 diabetes risk
  • a 25 to 28 percent reduction in the risk of heart disease

If you have a history of heart disease, stroke, or diabetes in your family, these numbers should catch your attention. (They did mine.) But the health benefits go on to include lowered blood pressure and reduced risks for asthma, colorectal cancer, and inflammatory disease. Studies also show that substituting whole grains for refined grains can lead to weight loss, reduced body fat, and lower cholesterol levels. That’s a lot of goodness packed into a collection of tiny kernels.

How Much Should I Eat?

The government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (released in early 2011) recommends that adults eat three to five servings of whole grains daily. But every little bit helps. Making even a slight increase in your whole grain consumption begins to provide health benefits. What’s a serving? Sixteen grams of whole grains — which looks something like this:

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or other cooked grain
  • 1/2 cup cooked 100 percent whole grain pasta
  • 1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, like oatmeal
  • 1 oz. uncooked whole grain pasta, brown rice, or other whole grain
  • 1 slice 100 percent whole grain bread
  • 1 very small (1 ounce) 100 percent whole grain muffin
  • 1 cup 100 percent whole grain ready-to-eat cereal

This list comes across as rather bland, but think about using barley to make a warming parmesan risotto, topping that whole-grain muffin with homemade mascarpone cheese and local honey, or cooking up a big, happy pot of homemade marinara sauce to dress your whole- grain pasta. Eating better isn’t just about eating foods that are good for you. It’s about exploring new foods, cooking them with soul, and eating mindfully.