Healthy Whole Grains and Your Diet

What whole grains are? The first federal definition can help you to find out whether your favorite cereal, crackers, pasta and everyday bread are whole-grain.

Eric Hentges, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion states that almost a half of Americans never consume a whole grain and that is why knowledge of whole grains is so precious. The government's 2005 dietary guidelines suggest most adults to consume three one-ounce portions of whole grains every day.

However, it is not easy to know what a whole grain is. The same with a one-ounce portion. From all accounts, the new definition of Food and Drug Administration may leave the picture a little unclear for consumers since it is a recommendation - not a regulation.

Avoid whole grains, such as oatmeal, popcorn, graham crackers, shredded wheat and corn tortillas, to mention a few. This way you miss foods with great flavor and you also don't receive important protection against heart disease and some sorts of cancer.

Due to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's report, whole grains may be beneficial for your waistline. One large study reveals that for every 40 grams of whole grains in the daily diet (that means three slices of whole wheat bread) body weight in women decreased by about a pound. Why is not sure, but it may result from the fact they consumed less of other foods. In another, BMI (body mass index) was the lowest in those who consumed the highest amount of whole grains. And in a research that paid attention to the children of participants of the crucial Framingham Heart Study, those who consumed the most whole grains showed the lowest BMI and the smallest waist-to-hip ratio - essential predictions of obesity risk, diabetes and heart disease.

So what is the secret of whole grains' power? They are rich in minerals and vitamins that are beneficial for the heart, blood and the immune system. They help protect human system against neural tube defects, including spina bifida in newborn babies. Whole grains are also rich in complex carbohydrates so they can provide a high amount of protein, up to 10 percent of the every day intake.

The good news is that whole grains are increasingly added to a growing number of popular foods, from English muffins, Chips Ahoy and raisin bread and to Fig Newtons, Rice-a-Roni and some Wheat Thins. According to Bonnie Liebman, a director of nutrition for Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the challenge lays in the fact that "You have to know which products are whole grains and which ones aren't."

Here's how you can find out:

Read the ingredients label. Buy products that contain whole grain as one of their main ingredients. So look for whole rye, whole wheat, whole corn, whole oats, whole barley and whole graham. Other whole grains are wild rice, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, triticale, amaranth, sorghum and whole graham flour.

What is a portion? This question is tricky because various types of food may vary in moisture, ingredients and formulations. A slice of whole-wheat bread means a one-ounce portion, and so does one whole-buckwheat pancake (about 4.5 inches in diameter) or one whole-wheat mini-bagel or one small whole-corn tortilla. Half a whole-wheat English muffin is also a portion, the same like half a cup of whole-wheat pasta or cooked oatmeal.

Three portions a day. That is the amount recommended for adult people eating from 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day. If you regularly eat less calories, you need about two portions; and if you consume more calories, you will need about four portions. A cup of cooked oatmeal means two portions of whole grains. A third portion may come from three cups of popcorn, two rye crispbreads or five Triscuits.

Remeber that there is a difference between fiber and whole grains. They are both measured in grams and they are usually found in the same sorts of food, but they are not interchangeable. So if you consume for breakfast one cup of 100 percent bran cereal, that is only a clever high-fiber choice, not a whole grain. As a result of the definition, some manufacturers probably put grams of whole grains on their products to encourage customers to buy them. For 100 percent whole-wheat bread, 16 grams would be regarded as an ounce equivalent, so a product which promises two grams per slice does not contain many whole grains.

There are foods that can trick you. Degerminated corn does not belong to the group of whole grains. It means that most popular corn breads are not whole-grain. The same is with wheat flour, pearled barley or various items labeled multigrain, seven-grain and cracked wheat. Remember - despite the fact your pizza dough is made entirely with whole-wheat flour, it is not whole-grain.

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Paul Douglas
This article was reprinted from health blog.

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