The latest U.S. dietary guidelines urge Americans to consume at least three servings daily of whole-grain foods. But if you've ever stood in a grocery aisle trying to figure out what products have whole grains and how much they contain, you're not alone.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) , which oversees food labels, provides no definition of "whole grain." The agency allows whole-grain products to use such terms as "multi-grain" and similar statements as well as "whole grain," FDA CommissionerLester Crawford told the American Association of Cereal Chemists' annual meeting last week. Prompted by the new guidelines, Crawford said, the agency has made defining "whole grain" one of its priorities for the coming year.
To help cut through the nutritional fog in the meantime are three stamp-like images that already adorn more than 300 whole-grain products, with many more in the pipeline to receive them. Developed by the Whole Grains Council, a nonprofit consortium of chefs, industry scientists and the Boston-based Oldways Preservation Trust, the stamps give consumers a quick way to spot whole grain foods. Products that contain at least half a serving of whole grains can display a "Good Source" stamp. Those that provide at least a full serving of whole grains are eligible for an "Excellent Source" stamp, while products that contain both a full serving of whole grains and include only whole grains are awarded a "100 percent Excellent Source" stamp.
"We're trying to help make consumers' hands move to the right place on the shelves," said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for Oldways and the Whole Grains Council.
That's because the latest national nutritional survey shows that "42 percent of American never eat a whole grain," said Eric Hentges, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Yet, three, one-ounce servings of whole grains -- equal to about three slices of whole-grain bread -- not only can help reduce the risk of such chronic diseases as diabetes and heart disease but may help with weight maintenance, according to the dietary guidelines.
Here's what you need to know about increasing whole grains:
* Ease into them. Whole grains can be an acquired taste. So add a quarter-cup of whole-grain cereal to your more refined cereal and slowly increase that percentage over several weeks while decreasing the amount of processed cereal. Enjoy pancakes or waffles made with buckwheat or other whole grains. Or make rice pilaf that is a mixture of white, brown and wild rice. Consider pasta salads that are made from a mix of both regular and whole wheat pasta.
* Look for whole-grain white bread. Yes, you read that correctly. It sounds like a nutritional oxymoron, but a growing number of bakers are using winter white wheat to make whole-wheat white bread. It has the same nutritional punch as traditional whole wheat, but its milder flavor and color rivals traditional white bread.
In the Washington region, Great Harvest Bread stores sometimes feature whole-wheat white loaves. Or make your own: King Arthur Flour's white whole-wheat product is sold in grocery and specialty stores and on the Web at www.kingarthurflour.com.
Nationally, look for Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Made With Whole Grain White Bread and Wonder White Bread Fans 100% Whole Grain. The latter is now being tested in northern California, Memphis, Little Rock and St. Louis and is scheduled to be sold nationwide by early 2006, according to Stan Osman, vice president of marketing for Interstate Bakeries Corp., maker of Wonder Bread.
* Sip your whole grains. Three new Frontier soups -- Iowa Open House Grain & Pasta Potage, Montana High Plains Wheat Berry Chili and Washington State Lentil Cracked Wheat -- are all made with 100 percent whole grains. These mixes, which are also low in sodium and have no MSG or other preservatives, are available online at www.frontiersoups.com, at many health food stores or at Great Harvest Bread stores.
* Look for new opportunities to try whole grains. Vacations can be a good time to expand your culinary horizons. At Walt Disney World in Orlando, brown rice and other whole grain offerings were already available. But after the latest dietary guidelines were released, Joel Schaefer, manager of culinary development and special dietary needs for the resort, added sandwiches made with whole-grain breads to the menu. "If visitors eat these foods in our restaurants, they learn more about them, and then they think, 'Maybe I should have this when I get home,' " Schaefer said. Whether traveling or not, you may want to try Greek, Middle Eastern, Indian, Japanese and other ethnic restaurants that feature whole-grain fare.
* Find snacks with whole grains. Popcorn, granola bars, many cereal bars, tortilla chips, whole-wheat pretzels, some varieties of graham crackers and snack mixes, such as Wheat, Rice and Corn Chex are popular options. Many more products are being introduced, including King Arthur's whole-grain semolina pizza crust, made with white whole-grain flour.
At the University of Minnesota, associate professor of nutrition and food sciences Len Marquart compared the palatability of pizzas made with varying percentages of whole-wheat flour, whole-wheat white flour and traditional processed white flour. During the two-month study, he fed 600 children pizza for lunch once a week. The youngsters, who range in age from first to sixth graders, consumed 75 percent of the pizza made with either whole-wheat white flour or refined white flour, but only about 30 percent of the pizza made with regular whole-wheat dough. His next step: a federally funded nine-month study to examine the best way to introduce dinner rolls and hamburger buns made with traditional whole wheat and with white whole wheat.
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