Getting on the Road to Whole Grains
Grain products, including whole grains, are best known for providing valuable fiber in the diet. Whole grains may help in weight loss and decrease your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Grains come from cereal, bread, pasta, or rice. Eating whole grains is not a new way to eat, but a change to what you are used to. Making the change is not as hard as you may think. Here is an overview of how to get you and your family on the road to a healthier diet.
Why Whole Grains are Good
Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel. You may have heard of bran and (wheat) germ. They are parts of the whole grain.
Whole grains are available in a variety of foods such as pasta, cereal, breads, and crackers. They are best known for their fiber content, but they also supply important nutrients and are low in fat. In fact, whole grains are associated with many health benefits such as lower cholesterol, weight control, and prevention of illnesses like diabetes. Whole grains fill you up faster and take longer to digest.
Many of the grain products that we eat are made from refined flour. This means the grain is processed to a point where some or all the nutritional value is gone. Sometimes nutrients are added back into the product but they are not as healthful as an unprocessed whole grain. This means we get the calories without gaining nutritional benefit.
You already eat foods made from grains, making your diet rich in whole grains will only require some fine tuning.
Making the Change to Whole Grains
The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends making at least half the grains you eat whole grains.
When you think about all the cereals, breads, or pastas that you and your family eat each day, you can see how many chances you have to introduce whole wheat to your diet. It may be easier to start with breakfast since this meal tends to have the largest servings of grain products.
The taste, texture, and feel of whole grain products may seem different than what you are used to. Experiment with different types of whole grain products. If whole wheat bread doesn't work for you, try whole grain pastas or snacks. There are many different products available to help you sneak whole wheat in to your diet without a lot of sacrifice. But, beware, not all whole grain products are created equal.
Become a Label Reader
Take time to read and understand nutrition labels. Sometimes labels can be tricky. True whole grain products will be made of 100% whole grain. These may include some of the following examples:
- Whole wheat
- Whole grain or brown rice
- Whole rye
- Whole grain barley
Be careful of words like wheat, stoned wheat, enriched wheat, or seven grain. They may not be whole grains. Color can also be deceiving. Brown color can be just a dye or brown sugar and white products may have some whole grains.
Gradually replace the refined grains you eat with whole grains. Before you know it, you will be eating whole grains all the time. Your final goal should be to have at least half the grains you eat be whole grains.
Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/. Published June 2016. Accessed October 13, 2016.
Dietary recommendations for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115449/Dietary-interventions-for-cardiovascular-disease-prevention. Updated August 18, 2016. Accessed October 13, 2016.
Flight I, Clifton P: Cereal grains and legumes in the prevention of coronary heart disease and stroke: a review of the literature. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006;60:1145-59.
How to add whole grains to your diet. Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/choose-whole-grains. Updated January 7, 2016. Accessed October 13, 2016.
Jensen MK, Koh-Banerjee P, Franz M et al: Whole grains, bran, and germ in relation to homocysteine and markers of glycemic control, lipids, and inflammation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83:275-83.
Kaline K, Bornstein SR, Bergmann A et al: The importance and effect of dietary fiber in diabetes prevention with particular consideration of whole grain products. Horm Metab Res. 2007;39:687-93.
Last reviewed October 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 10/24/2014