Q: I hear all this talk about whole grains. But what is the big deal with them and why are they so healthy?
A: Whole grains are healthy for many different reasons. First, whole grains are less processed than their "refined" counterpart. By refined I mean white bread, white pasta, most noodles, rice, flour tortillas and most chips. By being less refined, whole grains hold on to many of the good things our bodies like, the most common being fiber.
Fiber is good for digestive health and can help with weight and cholesterol control. Whole grains also provide additional vitamins and minerals that the body needs to perform at its best. Whole grains also contain high levels of antioxidants and other healthy plant-based nutrients. Recent research has found many interesting benefits from whole grains. Not only can whole grains help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes they can also lower triglycerides, help with weight management and slow the build-up of plaque in arteries.
Now you may be wondering how many truckfuls a day are needed for these benefits. Not that much actually. The American Dietetic Association recommends eating at least three servings of whole grains every day. Sometimes it's a little tricky to figure out what foods are whole grain because package labels are designed to make the product seem healthier than it actually is. A typical misconception is wheat bread. The packaging says its wheat bread, it looks brown, it must be a whole grain product. Wrong! Most wheat breads are nothing more than white bread with food coloring to make it darker.
To prevent mistakenly buying a "wanna-be" whole grain bread, look for "100% whole grains" printed on the package or "whole grain" in the ingredients list. When the label or package reads "made with whole grains" it means there is some in the package, but not 100 percent.
Whole grains are popping up in many foods that have typically been considered refined. Aside from bread, other foods that contain whole grain include: bagels, tortillas, pitas, muffins, pasta and chips. Substituting current grain products with whole grains is an easy and healthy choice that can make a difference in your long term health.
For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.