The guideline. The dietary guidelines say we should make sure that at least half of the six servings of grains we eat in a day are whole, not refined. In short, we should "Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains."
Daily amount. A person consuming 2,000 calories per day should have at least 48 grams of whole grains (or three servings) and an equal amount of refined grains. You can get about 16 grams of whole grains from any one of the following: a one-ounce slice of bread, one ounce of pasta or rice (uncooked), a six-inch tortilla, or about one cup of cereal.
Enriched grains. The other three servings can be refined, as long as they're enriched. These are refined grains that have nutrients such as folic acid or calcium added to them. Whole grains are not enriched, so if you replaced all your refined grains with whole ones, you'd need to get those nutrients elsewhere, perhaps through dietary supplements.
Whole vs. refined
Common whole grains. These include barley, corn (whole cornmeal and popcorn), oats, rice (brown and colored), rye, wheat and wild rice.
The whole seed. A whole grain contains all the components of the grain seed, including the bran, germ and endosperm; those parts are stripped away when grain is refined.
Nutrients. Whole grains contain fiber and important vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, selenium and B vitamins, all of which are lost when grains are milled to remove the bran and germ (making them "refined").
Health benefits. Eating whole grains may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and is linked to lower body weight; it may also help prevent type 2 diabetes.
By the numbers
Percentage of Americans who meet the daily whole-grain recommendation: less than 5
Servings of refined grains Americans consume daily: 6 (No more than three are recommended.)
SOURCE: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
Stamp of approval. A growing number of products carry the Boston-based Whole Grains Council's stamp, which highlights the amount of whole grain per serving. Check the ingredient list: some kind of whole grain should be listed first or second (after water).
"Multigrain."Be aware that whole-grain content isn't listed on Nutrition Facts panels, and labels can be misleading. For instance, multigrain bread may have plenty of whole grains or none at all.
"Bran," "wheat germ." The Whole Grains Council notes that these terms do not signal whole grain content.
Fiber. Don't get confused by fiber content: Whole grains have fiber, but a food that has fiber doesn't necessarily have whole grains.
Eating whole grains
Start with cold cereal. This is a tasty and convenient source of grains, but some brands have more whole grain than others. General Mills has reformulated its cereals to have at least 8 grams per serving (some have 16). Be conscious of sugar content, though: Lucky Charms have 10 grams of sugar per serving. Better yet, choose Cheerios, which have 1 gram of sugar per serving.
Or cook up some hot. When you cook oatmeal, whose whole oats count as whole grains, you can control the amount of sugar, salt and butter (Post recipe suggestion: Peanut Butter-Banana Oatmeal). You can also add uncooked oatmeal to your favorite meatloaf or meatball recipe, or use it in homemade breads, muffins and cookies.
But don't ignore the everyday ones. Popcorn - air-popped, popped in the microwave or cooked on the stovetop in a little bit of olive oil - is a perfectly legit whole grain. (Just go easy on the butter and salt.) So is the corn in cornbread and tortilla chips. Again, though, keep an eye on the sodium and fat.
Bake your own bread. It's easy, and you can use white whole-wheat flour, which is milled from "white" or albino wheat instead of the more common red wheat. One suggested Post recipe: Seeded Quick Wheat Bread. Another resource is the cookbook "King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking" (Countryman Press, 2006, $35).
Stir it in. Add dry cereal to yogurt. I think this must be what Grape-Nuts were invented for.
Try unusual whole grains
Find these recipes in the Post archives at washingtonpost.com/recipes.
- Quinoa: Mediterranean Quinoa With Broccoli
- Buckwheat: Double Mushroom Soup With Soba Noodles
- Bulgur: Curried Bulgur Pilaf With Ground Lamb and Beets
For nutrition news, visit the Checkup blog , follow @jhuget on Twitter and subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter by going to washingtonpost.com/wellness.