Health experts agree that we need to eat more whole grains for optimal health. But most people don’t know what whole grains are. They have been shown to reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity, but knowing the health benefits doesn’t help you find them in your local grocery store or learn how to cook with them.
Every grain starts as a whole grain when it grows from the earth. This whole grain (actually the seed or kernel of the plant) has three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.
Whole grain is one that contains all three parts:
The bran is the outer skin of the seed that contains antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber.
The germ is the “baby” of the seed, which grows into a new plant when pollinated. It contains many vitamins, along with protein, minerals and healthy fats
The endosperm is the seed’s food supply that provides the energy needed for the young plant to grow. The largest portion of the seed contains carbohydrates, and smaller amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Compared to refined grains (white bread, white rice, white flour), whole grains pack more protein, fiber, vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin E), and minerals (magnesium and iron), as well as some antioxidants not found in other foods.
Common types of whole grains are:
- Wild rice, which is actually a seed
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat
- Oatmeal and whole oats
- Whole rye
Less common types include: amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and triticale (a hybrid of rye and wheat).
Adding Whole Grains to Your Diet
New dietary guidelines recommend that half of your daily grains servings should be whole grains. That’s at least three servings of whole grains per day.
The easiest way to increase the amount of whole grains you consume is to substitute some processed grain products with their whole grain equivalent. This is as simple as having a slice of whole grain toast in the morning instead of using white bread, or using whole wheat flour in pancakes instead of white flour. If you’re making homemade soup, toss in a handful of brown rice or barley for added fiber. Make your dessert a healthy one, such as oatmeal cookies, and you won’t have to feel guilty you’re eating whole grains!
Brown rice is healthier than white rice and has significantly more nutrients. Brown rice is a concentrated source of fiber, which speeds up the removal of cancer-causing substances from our bodies. It is also an excellent source of selenium, which has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Whether you want to reduce your risk of disease or you simply want to eat fewer processed foods, adding whole grains to your diet makes sense. So the next time you sit down to watch a movie, bring along a bowl of popcorn and snack with a clear conscious. Whole grains couldn’t be tastier!