How to enjoy whole-grain goodness in your everyday diet

December 04, 2000

How to enjoy whole-grain goodness in your everyday diet

The 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans cites whole-grain foods as important in forming the best possible foundation for good nutrition and health. Of the six to 11 servings recommended daily from the breads, cereals, rice and pasta group, experts say at least three should come from whole-grain foods.

Not only does the average American eat less than one serving of whole-grain foods a day, many aren't even sure what experts mean when they use the term "whole-grain." All grains are considered whole before they are milled or refined. That is, they contain all original components of the grain - bran, endosperm and germ.

When grains are milled, germ and bran are often removed, and the starchy endosperm is left. When you enjoy white rice or foods made with white flour, it's the endosperm you're eating. This part of the grain contains mostly carbohydrates and protein, with only small amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber.


Whole-grain foods contain the bran, endosperm and germ of the grains. Bran is the outer layer of the grain. It is an important source of B vitamins, trace minerals and dietary fiber. Germ is the smallest part of the grain. It's the portion that sprouts, generating a new plant. Like bran, germ has B vitamins and trace minerals present, in addition to some protein.

Examples of whole-grain foods include most cooked cereals, like oatmeal, bulgar, quinoa and barley, and those ready-to-eat cereals that list a whole grain as their first ingredient, including whole-grain oats, whole-grain wheat or whole-grain rice. Brown rice, whole-grain pasta and whole wheat or whole-grained bread, rolls and pancake mixes are other examples.

Don't be fooled by the names of foods. The only way to be certain they are made from whole-grain products is to read the ingredients list. The key is to check the label. The first ingredient - and sometimes the second - should be labeled as whole grain, such as whole-grain oats and whole-grain rice, or whole wheat, such as in whole-wheat flour.

Not only are grain-based foods generally an excellent energy source, most are naturally low in fat and cholesterol because they originate from plants. When eaten regularly, whole-grain foods pack an added punch because they are good sources of several vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber and other protective substances called phytochemicals, all of which are essential for good health and may help reduce the risk for certain types of diseases.

The many health benefits that a diet rich in whole grains offers you include:

* Increased fiber.

Whole-grain foods are a great way to boost soluble and insoluble fiber consumption, which often are lacking. Research has shown that foods rich in soluble fiber may lower cholesterol and help prevent cardiovascular disease. Foods containing insoluble fiber may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancers, including colon and breast cancer.

* Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

A diet low in fat, especially saturated fat, is important in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Taking whole grains to heart can help lower your total fat and saturated fat intake. But go light on added fats such as butter or margarine.

* Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

A recent study of 36,000 women by the University of Minnesota found that three daily servings of whole-grain foods reduced the risk of adult-onset type 2 diabetes by 21 percent. It is believed that whole grains help keep blood sugar and insulin under control.

* Weight management.

Because whole-grain foods are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates and low in fat, they are more likely to fill you up - not out. This assumes, of course, that you also go lightly on added oil, butter, margarine, sugar and syrup.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County. Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

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