Popping two slices of whole-grain bread into the toaster gives you more than just an easy breakfast. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that at least one-half of your grains each day should come from whole-grain sources. Whole grains are packed with fiber, carbohydrates and vitamins. With just a few simple substitutions, you can easily make the 50-percent whole-grain guideline a part of your daily food routine.
Whole vs. Refined
Nature packs a lot of nutrition into a small grain. Whole grains are made up of three parts: the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the grain's outer coating. It is rich in fiber, which helps digestion and controls cholesterol. The germ is the part of the grain that grows a new plant. It is a nutrient-rich area containing heart-healthy fats, B vitamins and vitamin E, an antioxidant that repairs tissue and protects against cell damage. The endosperm is the largest part of the grain. It contains starch, a little protein and a small amount of vitamins and minerals. Refined grains such as white bread and white rice contain only the endosperm of the grain. The nutritious bran and germ are stripped away during processing.
The USDA recommends that women between 31 and 50 years of age eat 6 ounces of grains per day and that 3 ounces should come from whole grains. Grain servings are small, so it's easy to get in your 3 ounces of whole grains. One ounce of cooked whole grains is equal to 1/2 cup, and cold whole-grain cereal is equal to 1 cup. One ounce of bread is equal to one slice. A sandwich with two slices of whole-grain bread will give you 2 out of the 3 ounces of whole grains that you need each day.
One more reason to choose whole grains is variety. Whole-wheat flour, popcorn, oats, brown rice, bulgur, whole-grain corn and barley are all whole-grain options. Read the food labels carefully. Foods advertised as “made with whole grains" may only contain a small portion of whole grains. Foods labeled "multigrain" are made from a mix of different types of grains but not necessarily whole grains. Your best bet is to choose foods that are labeled 100 percent whole grain. When in doubt, read the ingredients list. A healthy grain choice will have whole grains listed first on the ingredients label.
Eating more whole grains can be a matter of simple substitution. Swap brown rice for white rice in your favorite soup or casserole. Make your favorite pasta salad with whole-wheat pasta. Do double duty with your side dishes by mixing your vegetables with whole grains. Stir cooked barley into succotash with a sprinkle of thyme for a tasty hot side or mix it with basil, feta and sliced tomatoes for a cold salad. Eat a variety of whole grains every day and enjoy the versatility of this hearty, nutritious food group.
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.