One of the most talked-about parts of the updated U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which were released Jan. 12, urges adults to eat at least three servings of whole-grain foods daily.
Luckily, this does not mean you have to choke down a bushel of spelt, amaranth, quinoa, kamut, triticale or other agricultural exotics familiar to serious foodies and nutritionists but utterly foreign to the rest of us.
Far more familiar barley, corn, oats, millet, brown rice, rye and whole wheat all fit the bill. All contain the three essential parts of whole grain: bran, the fiber-rich outer layer; the middle endosperm; and the nutrient-rich inner "germ."
The recommendation was added to the guidelines because "whole grains show some added benefit in reducing the risk of such chronic diseases as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and [they] may even be helpful in controlling weight," said Joan Lyon, a nutritionist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
In a voluminous report issued in August, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Committee noted that whole grains have at least 18 known nutrients that seem to be health-promoting. Among them: fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin E, phytoestrogens and antioxidants. Whether these substances act singly or together in whole grains to help protect health is still unknown.
No need to crack a cookbook or venture into a food co-op to meet the whole-grain standard, although the more adventurous will find many additional healthy options there as well as in today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter. A few pointers:
Start with bread. "Getting whole grains is as simple as picking out whole-wheat bread at the grocery store," said registered dietitian Lona Sandon, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Smart choices include: Arnold 100 Percent Whole Wheat; Mestemacher Pumpernickel Bread and Pepperidge Farm 100 Percent Whole Wheat Bread. Always look for breads whose first ingredient is "whole," as in whole wheat or whole rye flour. Bread made from "wheat flour" doesn't make the cut as a whole grain.
Look for stamps. New whole-grain stamps can provide guidance. Developed by the Whole Grains Council, a consortium of chefs, industry scientists and the Oldways Preservation Trust -- a nonprofit that calls itself a "food issues think tank" -- the stamps are poised to appear on packages containing "good" or "excellent" sources of whole grains. (Great Harvest bakeries in Alexandria, Burke, Herndon, Annapolis and Rockville are the first to use the stamps, according to the council.)
"Good" products must provide at least half a serving of whole grains; "excellent" must provide at least a full serving.
Eat oatmeal. Whether it's instant, steel cut, quick or just plain rolled, this staple is 100 percent whole grain. Oatmeal has 147 calories and four grams of fiber per cup. About half that fiber helps protect the heart and the rest helps keep things regular.
Breakfast like a champion. Wheaties, original Cheerios, plain shredded wheat and most raisin bran contain whole grains and are low in added sugar. All General Mills cereals have been reformulated to include whole grains, but some have more sugar and non-whole-grain ingredients, such as corn meal, than others. Good choices: Total, Fiber One, Wheat Chex and Rice Chex.
Snack on popcorn. This popular food is a whole grain. Just go easy on the salt and butter. That also goes for commercially prepared varieties, whether bought at the movie theater or put in the microwave. A lot of that may come loaded with salt, saturated fats and trans fats.
Buy whole groceries. As in whole-wheat pastas, brown rice and barley. Corn tortillas are a whole-grain product. If your family's palate needs a chance to adjust, start by mixing regular with whole-grain pastas, white with brown rice, etc.
Snack well. Triscuits are a whole-grain cracker. So are Ryvita, Wasa and Ry-Crisp crackers. Graham crackers can be another option, provided that the first ingredient is graham flour -- not enriched flour. Taco chips are made from whole grains, but also often contain added fat and salt. Don't be fooled by "degerminated corn meal," which is not a whole grain.
Don't confuse fiber with whole grains. Many whole grains are also good sources of fiber -- but some, such as puffed whole-grain cereal, are not. And high-fiber foods may not be good sources of whole grains. One hundred percent bran cereals are a good example: Bran is just one part of the grain.
The dietary guidelines recommended 25 grams of fiber per day for women, 38 for men. You may meet this guideline by choosing whole-grain foods that are high in fiber. But it's worth watching labels to make sure you're hitting both goals.
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