Eat Whole Grains for a Healthy Diet (Start with this Easy Recipe)

No doubt you’ve heard about whole grains and all of their benefits as part of a healthy diet. Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains contain fiber, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, prevent cancer, and keep you, um… regular.

But you may not have heard that companies often market less-than-whole grains and do it in a way that can be confusing to consumers.

Bottom line: If the package doesn’t say “whole grain” the grain is not whole. It’s refined. And refined grains do not offer the same health benefits, says Judith Kolish, a dietitian for Health Care Service Corp.

The benefits of whole grain
According to the Whole Grains Council, whole grains contain disease-fighting nutrients and antioxidants such as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, and iron, important parts of a healthy diet.

Studies cited by the council show that people who eat three servings of whole grains every day reduce their risk of heart disease by 25-36 percent, stroke by 37 percent, Type II diabetes by 21-27 percent, digestive system cancers by 21-43 percent, and hormone-related cancers by 10-40 percent.

What’s whole and what’s not?
A whole grain is just that—the entire grain. It isn’t split up into pieces. A whole grain is made up of three parts:

  • Germ
  • Bran
  • Endosperm

Refined grains, meanwhile, are processed to remove the germ and bran, leaving only the endosperm. The endosperm is the fluffier part that makes for fluffier foods. That’s part of the reason white bread made with refined grains tends to be lighter and fluffier than wheat bread made with whole grains.
Removing the germ and bran, however, also removes most of the nutrients and fiber from the grain.

How can you know it’s whole?
The easiest way to know you’re really getting the whole grain is to look for the word “whole” on the package label. It will be in the ingredients list and may be stamped on the product packaging. If you’re buying from a baker, even better! All you have to do is to ask whether he or she used whole grains in the product.

Whole grains come in many varieties, including wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, rye and popcorn. The newest whole grain is quinoa (\ˈkēn-ˌwä, kē-ˈnō-ə\, pronounced keen-wah). And there are “ancient” whole grains such as farro (FAHR-oh, pronounced fair-o), which is an Ethiopian grain. (The refined version of farro is called “pearled.”)

Beware of grains claiming to be whole
You can’t necessarily judge a product by its color, Kolish says.

“Brown doesn’t always mean whole grain. It might be brown from molasses,” she says.

And don’t be fooled by marketers’ promises. Products that say they are “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “7-grain,” or made with “cracked wheat,” “bran,” or “100 percent wheat” may or may not be whole grain. The only way to know for sure is to look for the word “whole.” To get the most out of your healthy diet, choose products that list whole grain as the first ingredient listed on the package.

Kolish and Allison Knott, a dietitian and wellness director for FLIK Hospitality Group, say it’s easy to add whole grains to your diet through recipes like this one:

Wild rice, dried cranberry, sunflower seed salad
Ingredients

8 oz long grain wild rice, dry
1 qt. warm water
4 oz, low-sodium vegetable base
1 ¼ oz  roasted sunflower seeds
1 oz. scallions
2 oz. finely chopped red onion 
2 oz. red bell peppers, diced
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

For dressing:
½ oz. chopped Italian parsley
4 oz. dried cranberries
2 tbsp olive/canola oil 90/10 blend

Directions:
In a sauce pan, combine vegetable base and water, bring to a boil. Add wild rice and simmer until rice is tender and stock has been absorbed, approximately 45 minutes. Chill to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit
Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, and parsley. 
Place chilled cooked rice in a bowl. Add chopped green onions, red onion, peppers, sunflower seeds, cranberries, and dressing. Toss together and serve.

Yield: 10, ½ cup portions
191 cal
5g fat
1g sat fat
33g carb
5g protein
214 mg sodium

Recipe courtesy of FLIK Hospitality Group on behalf of Motiva Corporate Wellness.

How do you take your whole grains? Toasted? Dressed up? Let us know in the comments below!

Last Update: 12/4/2017

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