Eating three servings of whole grains daily can dramatically reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Yet 95 percent of Americans do not eat enough whole grains and miss out on the well-documented health benefits.
The USDA’s MyPlate Dietary guidelines have included whole grains as a food to increase, but doing so doesn’t have to be difficult. Even adding fun grains such as popcorn, the surprising whole grain, can be surprisingly beneficial. In fact, new research shows that popcorn packs more antioxidant power than a day’s worth of fruit and vegetables, in part because it has a much lower water content.
The recommended amount of whole grains is just three servings, or three ounces, per day. A single serving could include half a cup of brown rice, a one-ounce slice of whole wheat bread, or a 6-inch whole grain corn tortilla. But benefits have been found for even less than the recommended amount of grain.
Whole grains are loaded with phytochemicals, antioxidants, and minerals such as magnesium, selenium, zinc, copper and manganese. They also contain B vitamins, magnesium, and iron—plus soluble fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.
“Whole grains are cereal grains that consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked kernel, which includes the bran, germ and the innermost part of the kernel (the endosperm),” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains. Contrast this with refined grains, where the bran, germ and endosperm are mechanically removed—along with many vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
Whole grains include whole wheat, oats and oatmeal, corn and cornmeal, brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, rye, sorghum, teff, and triticale. Refined grains include white rice, white bread, “instant” oatmeal, and baked goods made with white flour.
Before you buy a loaf of bread, make sure it says “100 percent whole grain” or “100 percent whole wheat” or even “whole wheat.” Labels reading “wheat flour” or “100% wheat” include refined grains. “Organic” doesn’t necessarily mean an item contains whole grains. “Multigrain” or “stone ground” breads are also not necessarily whole grains.
When reading labels, look for those listing the whole grain as the first ingredient.
The Whole Grain Council has two whole grain stamps on food packages to make buying whole grains easier. The basic stamp simply says “Whole Grain,” which means that the product has 8g or more of whole grain per serving. The 100 percent stamp assures that the product has at least 16g of whole grains per serving, and that all of its ingredients are whole grains. Each stamp also explains how many grams of whole grain ingredients are in each serving of the product.
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