Have you had any whole grains today?
What are whole grains, why are they good for you and, are Wheaties® a whole grain?
September is Whole Grains Month. Whole grains are the entire seed of a plant – the bran, germ and endosperm, all covered with a husk that protects the seed from disease and light. Refined grains, on the other hand, are missing one or more of the three parts (bran, germ or endosperm). Typically, the bran and germ are removed in the refining process, leaving only the endosperm. The bran provides B vitamins, iron, fiber and antioxidants while the germ provides additional B vitamins, minerals and healthy fat. While many of these refined grains are enriched with some of the vitamins and minerals lost in the refining process, they are often not in the same proportion as what is naturally in whole grains, or not added back at all.
Why are whole grains good for you?
Provide compounds with potential anti-cancer activity – phytonutrients (plant nutrients) such as polyphenols, lignans, saponins, phytic acid, protease inhibitors and tocotrienols are present in whole grains. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, there is strong evidence that consuming whole grains decreases the risk of colorectal cancer.*
Provide energy – whole grains provide energy from carbohydrates. In addition, because whole grains are digested more slowly than refined grains, blood sugar levels stay more consistent. Refined grains are digested quickly and can lead to an energy spike when glucose levels rise followed by an energy slump when those levels drop.
Provide fiber – fiber may help protect against colon cancer and promote weight control. Dietary fiber can also make you feel full, so you may eat fewer calories if you are watching your weight. The fiber in whole grains also helps prevent constipation and diverticular disease. (Drink plenty of water when increasing the fiber in your diet!). Consuming foods containing dietary fiber has also been shown to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.*
They are heart healthy – benefits of whole grains on heart health include lowering blood pressure, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol).
How do you know if it a whole grain?
Look for the words 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat (for example) on the ingredient list. These grains are considered whole grains in their natural state:
- whole wheat
- graham flour
- whole oats
- brown rice
- wild rice
- whole-grain corn
- whole-grain barley
- whole-wheat bulgur and whole rye
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 6 ounces of grain foods daily with at least half of that grain intake from whole grains (based on a 2000 calorie diet)
The following count as 1 ounce-equivalent (or 1 serving) of whole grains:
- 1 slice whole-grain bread (such as 100% whole-wheat bread)
- 1 cup ready-to-eat, whole-grain cereal
- 1⁄2 cup cooked whole-grain cereal, brown rice, or whole-wheat pasta
- 5 whole-grain crackers
- 3 cups unsalted, air-popped popcorn
- 1 6-inch whole-wheat tortilla
Finally, are Wheaties® a whole grain?? Yes, their first ingredient is "whole grain wheat". That, along with some clever marketing and athlete endorsement, may be why it is known as the Breakfast of Champions!?!
Need some recipe inspiration for whole grains?
Toast Toppings (using whole wheat or another whole grain toast)
*Word Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Colorectal Cancer. 2017. www.wcrf/org/colorectal-cancer-2017. Accessed Sept 8, 2017