The Whole Truth About Grains: Bulgur Can Trim Your Bulges and Spelt Can Make You Svelte

Frontier, sold online and in gourmet shops, makes whole-grain soups.
Frontier, sold online and in gourmet shops, makes whole-grain soups. (Frontier Soups)
By Sally Squires
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

There are familiar, but often overlooked, foods lurking in your pantry that can assist with weight control and help combat abdominal fat: whole-grain products, from oatmeal to whole wheat bread.

Whether you start the day with piping-hot oatmeal or end it by dining on whole wheat pasta, the whole-grain fiber can help cut your risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Take the results published last month by a group of British researchers. They analyzed 15 studies of whole grains involving nearly 120,000 people 13 and older. These studies consistently showed that those who ate about three servings of whole grains daily -- the amount recommended by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines -- had significantly smaller waistlines than people who skimped on whole grains. Plus, whole-grain eaters also consumed significantly less unhealthy saturated fat and weighed less than those who ate mostly processed products with white flour, added sugar and little fiber.

No matter what your weight, there appear to be benefits from swapping processed cereal, bread, crackers, rice and pasta for heartier, whole-grain fare. Reporting in October at the Obesity Society's annual meeting, Tufts University researchers showed that even among older, overweight people, eating whole grains especially in cereal, was associated with lower overall body fat and abdominal fat.

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Product Guide: Whole Grains

Welcome to Week Four of the Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. If you're just joining us, it's never too late to start the challenge, which is simply designed to help you maintain your weight from now until New Year's Day. The holiday season is traditionally a time of indulgence. For many -- especially the nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults who are overweight or obese -- too much celebration often adds up to additional unwanted pounds.

But you won't find any Scrooges here. What fun would that be? So each week in the Holiday Challenge, you'll discover goals and tips to help you maintain your weight until you croon "Auld Lang Syne." (This week's food goal is to switch to whole grains. For activity, take five short walks -- just five minutes each -- per day, something that even the most hectic schedules can accommodate.)

Eating more whole grains has never been easier, thanks to the whole-grain bread, cereal, granola bars, crackers, cookies and pasta that are being added to grocery shelves.

Read the labels carefully, however. Just because a product touts "multigrain" doesn't make it whole-grain. Nor does the inclusion of wheat flour. Look instead for products that contain whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, buckwheat, amaranth, bulgur, cracked wheat, brown rice, wild rice, whole-grain corn, oatmeal, whole or pearl barley, or popcorn as the first ingredient.

Or you can simply be guided by the golden wheat stamps that more than 1,400 products now carry. They're issued by the Whole Grains Council, a Boston-based nonprofit advocacy group of millers, food manufacturers, scientists and chefs. Products that carry these stamps are guaranteed to contain at least eight grams of whole grains -- about half a serving -- per portion.

These days, it isn't just bread that contains whole grains. Cookies, cakes, snack bars, beverages and even some soups contain whole grains, too:

¿ Frontier, whose foods are sold online and in gourmet shops, produces soups with whole grains, including Montana High Plains Wheat Berry Chili, Iowa Open House Grain and Pasta Potage, and Washington State Squash and Lentil Soup. Four soups from the Midwestern grocery chain Hy-Vee contain whole grains: Beef With Whole Grain Barley, Chicken With Whole Grain Wild and Red Rice, Chicken With Whole Grain Noodle and Minestrone With Whole Grain Penne Pasta. Progresso makes a chicken and wild rice soup.

¿ Arrowhead Mills, Bob's Red Mill, Farmer Direct and War Eagle Mill all produce a variety of whole-grain flours, from ancient grains such as amaranth, kamut, spelt and teff to better known barley, cornmeal, oat and whole wheat. For die-hard white-bread lovers, there's winter white wheat flour from King Arthur, which provides a lighter whole-grain alternative to more traditional whole wheat. Or find it in Sara Lee's Whole Grain White Bread and Wonder Bread White Bread Fans.

¿ There are whole-grain treats for snacks, whether you crave a salty pretzel or you need to soothe a sweet tooth. Triscuits and Sun Chips are made with whole grains. So are many of Snyder's of Hanover pretzels, tortilla strips and chips, as well as many snacks from Kashi, Health Valley, Mary's Gone Crackers and Dr. Kracker.

¿ And (here's one that may surprise you) quench your thirst with a whole-grain drink. Good Karma Organic Rice Milk contains at least half a serving of whole grains per portion.

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