Whole Grains Help Round Out a Healthy Daily Diet

Families, Food and Fitness November 08, 2011|Print

Released November 2, 2011

STILLWATER, Okla. – Even as experts encourage Americans to adopt a healthier lifestyle, there are lots of options for adding nutritious whole grains to their plates.

The latest federal nutrition guidelines recommend a daily diet that is dominated by fruits and vegetables; however some recent data indicates that the top spot belongs to flours and cereals.

Flour and cereal products top American's eating

U.S. Department of Agriculture Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data from 2009 shows that flour and cereal products accounted for the bulk of the calories the average American consumed on a daily basis, roughly the equivalent of 619 calories a day. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables only registered 205 calories.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans advocate that adults ages 19 and over consume between 6 ounces and 8 ounces of grains each day, while boys and girls ages 9 to 18 eat 5 ounces to 8 ounces daily. Small children between ages 2 and 8 should eat between 3 ounces and 5 ounces. Exact amounts depend on a person’s age, gender and level of activity.

The guidelines recommend that least half of the grains consumed should be whole grains, and suggest that individuals can either consume enough 50 percent whole grain products to equal the recommended goal or make half of the overall recommended grain intake 100 percent whole grain products.

One regular slice of bread, half an English muffin, one “mini” bagel and half a cup of cooked pasta are all equivalents of a 1-ounce measurement of a grain product.

“Whole grains – grains that contain the bran, germ and endosperm – are incredibly important to our diet. They provide the necessary fiber for proper digestion and could play a role in decreasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke and obesity,” said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

Hermann said making sure that at least half the grains an individual eats each day are whole grains can be accomplished with some fairly simple changes that can ultimately have a big impact on the person’s health.

“You’re also setting a good example for your children, friends, family and neighbors by encouraging a healthy environment overall,” she said.

How to eat more whole grains

An easy first step is replacing refined grain products with their whole grain counterparts.

“Swap white bread and bagels with 100 percent whole wheat versions, and begin using brown rice instead of white rice,” Hermann said.

Recipes also are good starting points when looking for ways to incorporate a variety of whole grains into a diet. Adding brown rice or barley to vegetable soups and stews or incorporating bulgur wheat in casseroles or stir fry dishes not only boosts the nutritional value of the meal, but also gives it a new layer of texture.

“Try substituting buckwheat, millet or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancakes, waffles, muffins and other flour-based recipes,” Hermann said. “Don’t be afraid to be creative and adventurous. This is a perfect opportunity to try less familiar whole grains like quinoa and hominy.”

Oatmeal is a familiar, heart healthy whole grain breakfast or snack option that can be sweetened with fresh or dried fruit. Combined with dried fruits, it makes a granola that is low in fat, sodium and sugar.

Hermann noted oatmeal also can be used as part of the crust or batter for a dessert, and it works well for extending meatloaf or meatballs, a strategy that helps stretch food dollars.

Whole grain cereals can form the basis for nutritious trail and snack mixes, while popcorn, another whole grain, is a healthy alternative when fat and sodium are controlled, or if its air popped.

Work to identify whole grains
While incorporating whole grains into a diet can be accomplished relatively easily, it is not always quite as simple to identify them. Products labeled as multigrain, wheat bread or made with whole grain are not necessarily whole grains, Hermann cautioned.

It is also difficult to judge by color or product descriptions. In fact, foods identified as multigrain, stone ground, 100 percent wheat, cracked wheat, seven grain or bran often are not 100 percent whole grain products and may not contain any whole grain.

Instead consumers should closely study nutrition labels for clues, and pick products that list a whole grain product first.

“Look for wording like ‘whole wheat,’ ‘brown rice,’ ‘bulgur,’ ‘buckwheat,’ ‘oatmeal,’ ‘whole grain cornmeal,’ ‘whole oats,’ ‘whole rye,’ or ‘wild rice,’” Hermann said. “Also, be sure to check the nutrition label for fiber content. Good sources of fiber contain 10 percent to 19 percent of the Daily Value and excellent sources contain 20 percent or more.”

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Oklahoma State University, http://www.dasnr.okstate.edu/Members/donald.stotts-40okstate.edu/whole-g...

Writer: Leilana McKindra, 405-744-6792, leilana.mckindra@okstate.edu