Sunday, March 6, 2011

Whole Grains are Better!


We are starting with whole grains because this is where my familie's food adventure began.  It is amazing how little nutrition is taught in medical school. It was not until I was in practice I realized how important this subject is to patient care and how little I knew!  I made it a point to learn and continue to do so.  About 7 years ago we started the switch to whole grains.  It was not easy having been brought up on white bread, rice and pasta (that has been the hardest to switch!).  However, now we do not even enjoy the plain taste of white bread compared to the flavorful whole grain varieties.  If you are resistant than start slow (like we did)- I will be exploring different whole grain products in future post, how to read the label and some tips on making the switch.

What is Whole Grains?

 There are three parts to a grain kernel- bran, germ and endosperm and each provides nutrients.   Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel.  Refining removes the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm. This stripes the grain of about 25% of it's protein and at least seventeen key nutrients. Enriching means that the processors add back some vitamins and minerals to enrich refined grains, so refined products still contribute valuable nutrients. But whole grains are healthier, providing more protein, more fiber and many important vitamins and minerals.

Why choose whole grains?  (adapted from the Whole Grain Council)

Known benefits of whole grain include: 
  • stroke risk reduced 30-36%
  • type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%
  • heart disease risk reduced 25-28%
  • better weight maintenance
Other potential benefits include:
  • reduced risk of asthma
  • healthier carotid arteries
  • reduction of inflammatory disease risk
  • lower risk of colorectal cancer
  • healthier blood pressure levels
  • less gum disease and tooth loss
 Where do I find Whole Grains?

The most common whole grounds you will encounter are in flour used to make bread, pasta and other processed foods.  It also is in rice and a variety of products sold with the whole grain in it's natural state.

Examples of whole grains include:
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Millet
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers
  • Wild rice

How do I know if the food I am buying has whole grains?

The food label needs to say "whole grain".  It also might state the percentage of whole grain in the product.  To be labeled as whole grain it must have the same proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm as the harvested kernel does before it is processed.

How much do I need?
(adapted from

 Look at the label and try to select items that have at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving.

Eat whole-grain versions — rather than refined grains — as often as possible.

Whole-grain versions of rice, bread, cereal, flour and pasta can be found at any grocery store. Many whole-grain foods come ready to eat. These include a variety of breads, pastas and ready-to-eat cereals.

Additional resources on whole grains: has a very in depth list of the scientific studies done on whole grains

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