How to Get More Whole Grains in Your Diet

Whole Grains
Whole Grains

What Are Grains?

Grains include rice, wheat, oats, barley, cornmeal, and other cereal grains. Grain products are any foods made from grains such as:

  • Bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Grits
  • Tortillas
  • Crackers
  • Popcorn
  • Cornbread
  • Pretzels
  • Muffins
  • Pancakes

How Much Grain Should We Eat?

Assuming low physical activity levels (less than 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity), here are recommended daily amounts of grains:

  • Adult women should get five to six ounce-equivalents of grains a day.
  • Adult men should get six to eight-ounce equivalents of grains a day.
  • Depending on their age and gender, children should eat from three to seven ounce-equivalents a day.

An ounce equivalent equals:

  • One slice of bread
  • One cup of ready-to-eat cereal
  • One-half cup of cooked pasta, cooked rice, or cooked cereal

Visit Choosemyplate.gov to see a chart that lists ounce-equivalents of selected grain products.

What Are Whole Grains?

Whole grains have the entire grain kernel, which consists of the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains are those that have been milled, removing the bran and germ. Milling is done to provide refined grains with a longer shelf life and a finer texture. But milling removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins from the grain. If refined grains are purchased they should be “enriched,” which means that key B vitamins and iron have been added back. However, fiber is not added back to refined grains.

Here are the most popular whole grains:

  • Whole-wheat flour
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole cornmeal

According to MyPyramid.gov, commonly eaten whole grain products include:

  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat breakfast cereals
  • Whole grain barley
  • Whole grain cornmeal
  • Whole rye
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole-wheat crackers
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Whole-wheat sandwich buns and rolls
  • Whole-wheat tortillas
  • Wild rice

Less common whole grains are:

  • Amaranth
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum
  • Triticale 

At least half of a person’s daily grain consumption should be from whole-grain products.

What Are the Benefits of Whole Grains?

Whole grains have several important health benefits, including:

  • Eating foods rich in fiber, such as whole grains, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Eating foods rich in fiber, such as whole grains, may reduce constipation. 
  • Eating at least three ounce-equivalents a day of whole grains can help control weight.

Grains, particularly whole grains, are good sources of many important nutrients such as:

  • Dietary fiber (from whole grains), which helps reduce cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease, and reduces constipation and diverticulosis.
  • B Vitamins, which are important in metabolism and for a healthy nervous system.
  • Folic Acid (folate), which aids the formation of red blood cells, and is especially important for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant and may reduce the risk of some birth defects.
  • Iron, which carries oxygen in the blood.
  • Magnesium, from whole grains, is used to build bones and to release energy from the muscles.
  • Selenium, from whole grains, helps protect cells from oxidation and helps keep the immune system healthy. 

These benefits amount to an imperative to consume enough grains, especially whole grains.

Ways to Get More Whole Grains in Your Diet

Suggestions from MyPyramid on how to eat more whole grains  include the following tips:

  • Substitute whole grain products for many of the refined products in your diet.
  • Eat whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta at least some of the time.
  • Eat brown rice instead of white rice at least some of the time.
  • Use whole grains in mixed dishes such as soups and stews (barley, for example).
  • Make a whole grain pilaf using a mixture of brown rice, wild rice, barley, and broth.
  • Snack on popcorn with little or no added salt or butter.
  • Try unsweetened whole grain ready-to-eat cereal as croutons in salads or instead of crackers with soups.

Eat More Whole Grains to Improve Your Nutrition

Getting proper nutrition from real food can be a challenge. We are often told to eat more fruits and vegetables, which are important for good nutrition. Whole grains are also very important for proper nutrition. So if you haven’t been paying much attention to the grains you consume, target whole grains and you can improve the quality of your nutrition.

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