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Know the whole grain story for maximum health benefits

September 20, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

A key message from the U.S Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid program (www.mypyramid.gov) is, "Make half your grains whole grains." We're encouraged to get plenty of fiber, B vitamins and other nutrients by selecting whole-grain food products over ones made from refined grains.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel - the bran, germ and endosperm and all their nutrients. Examples include: whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal and brown rice.

Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are: white flour, degermed cornmeal, white bread and white rice.

Some whole grains are common and easy to fit into an eating plan. The simplest way is to choose a bread that lists "whole wheat" or "whole-wheat flour" as its first ingredient. Ingredients are listed by weight, so selecting a product with a whole-grain ingredient listed first is an excellent choice. Muffins with "whole-corn flour" listed first would be another whole-grain option.

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Choose foods that name one of the following whole-grain ingredients first on the label's ingredient list: brown rice, bulgur, graham flour, oatmeal, whole-grain corn, whole oats, whole rye, whole wheat, wild rice.

Don't be taken in by labels claiming "made with whole grain" or "source of whole grain." Foods labeled with the words "multi-grain," "stone-ground," "100% wheat," "cracked wheat," "seven-grain," or "bran" are usually not whole-grain products. Check the first ingredient in the ingredient list to know for sure if it is a whole-grain food or not.

Color is not an indication of a whole grain. Bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients. Read the ingredient list to see if it is a whole grain.

In addition to selecting whole-grain food products, we also can fit whole grains into a healthful eating plan in more subtle ways.

Rolled oats or rolled barley can be added to ground beef (with an egg and seasonings) to make hamburgers or meatloaf with a whole-grain boost.

Use whole-wheat English muffins or bagels, top with tomato sauce and cheese, and warm in the microwave or oven for quick and easy mini-pizzas.

For an easy snack, try mixing whole-grain cereals (be sure to check the ingredient list to make sure the grain is whole), nuts and dried fruit.

Brown rice, hulled barley, cracked wheat, millet or sorghum can be added to soups and casseroles for a more wholesome whole-grain main dish.

Try rolled oats or a crushed, unsweetened whole-grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish, veal cutlets or eggplant parmigiana.

Use unsweetened, whole-grain, ready-to-eat cereal as croutons in salad or in place of crackers with soup.

Mix brown rice, millet, bulgur wheat or your favorite whole grains and pour a sauce over it for a delicious and filling meal.

Create a whole-grain pilaf with a mixture of barley, wild rice, brown rice, broth and spices. For a special touch, stir in toasted nuts or chopped dried fruit. Check package instructions or a good cookbook for exact cooking times and the amount of cooking liquid needed for each grain.

If you have kids, send them on a scavenger hunt at the grocery store for other tasty options that include whole grains. Teach them to read the ingredient list on cereals or snack food packages and to choose those with whole grains at the top of the list. Help them learn to make half their grains whole grains.

The amount of grains you need to eat depends on your age, gender and level of physical activity. Recommended daily amounts are available by visiting www.mypyramid.gov and clicking on "Inside The Pyramid." If you would like a printed copy of this information, send a self-addressed, stamped (39 cents) business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension-Washington County, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Grains."

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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