The importance of eating whole grains is becoming increasingly apparent as studies continue to uncover the health benefits associated with whole grains. Whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, eye degeneration, and cancer, to name a few. But which grains are really whole? Some food manufacturers are out to trick you. This article will help you to identify which foods are good sources of whole grains, and which are only posing as whole grains.
First, a quick anatomy lesson on whole grains. A whole grain contains 3 parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. A refined grain (such as white bread and white rice) has the bran and the germ removed, leaving only the starchy endosperm. Unfortunately, the bran and the germ contain the majority of the fiber, vitamins and minerals. So when you eat a refined grain, you’re missing out on these nutrients!
Now, lets do some detective work. How can you identify the real whole grains?
Safe sources: Brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, 100% whole wheat flour, wild rice, bulgur, wheatberries
These whole grain foods likely are not out to trick you. It doesn’t matter if they are quick-cooking, instant, or regular; they are still a whole grain! This is surprising to many people who think they must have slow-cooking brown rice or oatmeal for it to be healthy. Not so! Instant rice is “parboiled” meaning it’s partially cooked already. Quick-cooking oatmeal is just smaller than regular oatmeal, so it cooks faster.
Tricky sources: Bread, cereal, crackers, granola bars, tortillas, barley, pasta
These products may be out to trick you. Here are some tips that can help you find good sources of whole grains:
- Bread: Should have 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain on the label. Bread that looks brown and is called “wheat” or “multigrain” may NOT be a whole grain. Bread manufacturers often color white bread brown with molasses and call it “wheat.”
- Cereal: The first ingredient listed should have the word “whole” in it, like “whole wheat,” “whole oats,” or “whole grain corn.” Ideally, it contains no refined or “enriched” grains in the label, and it also is low in sugar. Post Shredded Wheat, Quaker Oatmeal Squares and Barabara’s Shredded Oats are some of my favorite whole grain cereals.
- Pasta: Most pasta is made from “durum wheat” which is not a whole grain. However, whole grain pastas are being offered more frequently in grocery stores. Barilla Whole Grain Pasta and Rozoni Healthy Harvest are blends of whole wheat and regular durum wheat. Other less common brands offer 100% whole wheat pasta: keep your eyes peeled!
- Crackers, granola bars, tortillas and other products: For these products, use the first ingredient method: make sure the first ingredient listed is a “whole grain,” and ideally the product contains no “enriched” grains in the label is low in sugar. Sometimes, these products will have a whole grain stamp that tells you how many grams of whole grains it contains. Compare this number to the total number of carbohydrates. The closer the 2 numbers are, the better; that means the product is mostly made of whole grains. Some of my favorite whole grain-containing products include Triscuts and Nature Valley granola bars.
I hope this post will help you to identify some good sources of whole grains. What are some of your favorite whole grain foods?
For a list of products containing whole grains, check out this site.