By: Allison Laypath, KSL
Many health experts agree that whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. Whole grains include the well-known wheat, corn, oats, rice, barley and rye. There are many whole grains with impressive health benefits that you may not have heard of, including quinoa, spelt, sorghum and kamut.
According to the Whole Grains Council, "The medical evidence
is clear that whole grains reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Few foods can offer such diverse benefits. Moreover, whole grains have some valuable antioxidants not found in fruits and vegetables, as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber."
The Harvard School of Public Health offers a similar report: "Whole grains don't contain a magical nutrient that fights disease and improves health. It's the entire package - elements intact and working together - that's important." When wheat, rice and other grains are processed into lighter, whiter varieties, most of their health benefits are stripped away.
The benefits of whole grains may be clear, but it can be challenging to change a lifetime of eating white bread, rice and pasta. Here are some tips for painlessly adding whole grains to your daily diet.
Experts recommend adding whole grains to your diet slowly. Mary Ellen Herndon, a dietician at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center suggests, "If you don't eat a lot of whole grains, start slow until your stomach and taste buds get adjusted to the switch."
The fiber in whole grains is great for your health, but it can cause digestive discomfort if your body isn't used to it. Start by adding whole grains to one meal or snack per day and drinking more water. As your body adjusts, add more whole grains until you're eating them throughout the day.
The other reason to slowly add whole grains to your diet is that whole grains have a stronger flavor than their white counterparts. Whole wheat bread has a hearty, nutty flavor that is delicious once you get used to it. However, if you suddenly switch from all white to all-whole grain it can feel like you're getting your meals from the bottom of a wood chipper. That will decrease your chance of long-term success with whole grains.
When shopping for groceries, don't rely on a product's health claims on the front of the package. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Foods labeled with the words 'multi-grain,' 'stone-ground,' '100% wheat,' 'cracked wheat,' 'seven-grain,' or 'bran' are usually not whole-grain products." Don't use color as a guide either. Bread may be brown because of molasses or other additives.
Read the ingredients and nutrition information on the side of the package. Whole grain should be the first ingredient. Watch out for less healthy ingredients like enriched flour, oil, salt and sugar that may outweigh the health benefits of the whole grain. When comparing whole grain products, look for products with a higher percent Daily Value (% DV) for fiber.
When purchasing whole-wheat flour, brown rice and other whole grains, don't buy in bulk if you're just starting to change your eating habits. They won't stay fresh as long as the heavily processed white varieties.
Adapt favorite recipes
It's often easy to add whole grains to your family's favorite recipes. Here are a few ideas:
- Use whole-wheat breadcrumbs or rolled oats in meatloaf or meatballs.
- Use whole-grain cereal or breadcrumbs as breading on chicken.
- Replace half or more of the white flour in muffins or pancakes with whole-wheat flour.
- The texture and nutty flavor of whole-wheat flour are delicious in brownies.
- Mix in some whole-wheat pasta or rice with your regular white pasta or rice. If you start with just a little, you probably won't notice much difference.
- Replace potato chips with tortilla chips. Tortilla chips aren't a health food, but they are made from whole-grain corn. If you dip them in salsa, you're adding vegetables to your diet, too.
Experiment with your recipes and ingredients to see what works best for your family, and increase the whole grains as your family's tastes change. You may find that whole-wheat pasta is delicious with marinara sauce, but not in macaroni and cheese. Your family might be slow to switch to whole-wheat bread, but they may devour whole-wheat blueberry muffins at snack time.
Look for options at restaurants
Many restaurants offer whole-grain options to diners who are looking for them. Look for whole-wheat buns and breads at burger and sandwich shops. Many Asian restaurants offer both brown and white rice. You can order half of each if you're still in transition from white to whole grain.
At McDonald's, replace french fries with a fruit and yogurt parfait. The parfait is sugary, but it has a lot fewer calories, and much less fat and salt than the fries. The granola is whole grain, plus you'll get nutrients from the whole berries and yogurt.
Look beyond wheat
Wheat is often the primary focus when in comes to getting more whole grains, because wheat is a staple in many diets. However, don't overlook opportunities to add whole oats, corn, rice, barley and other grains to your diet. Here are some ideas for adding other grains to your diet:
- Make oatmeal for breakfast. If your mornings are hectic, prepare it the night before in your slow cooker with steel-cut oats.
- Popcorn is a whole-grain snack. If you pop it in a hot air popper, you can better control the amount of butter and salt added to it.
- Add barley to vegetable soup.
- Try quinoa in place of couscous or rice. It's a whole grain and a good source of protein.
- Use brown rice or quinoa in salads.
"People who eat lots of whole-grain foods significantly reduce their risk of all chronic diseases; they also weigh less and live longer than people who don't," writes food journalist Michael Pollan. Start slowly, and find ways to add whole grains to your current daily routine. You may be surprised at how quickly you start to enjoy whole grains and the health benefits that come with them.
Copyright 2013 Deseret Digital Media, Inc.