September is Whole Grains Month and if you're looking to make healthy changes to your diet, start by adding these healthy grains. Whole grains have many health benefits, including reducing your risk for stroke, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Eating whole grains can also help you maintain a healthy weight. It's a simple and effective lifestyle change, yet only 10 percent of Americans get the recommended amount each day.
Whole grains are healthier than refined products like white bread or crackers, because they contain all parts of the grain seed. The whole grain contains important nutrients like protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants and other minerals. It's important to be informed about whole grains when shopping, since the bread and cereal aisles are loaded with terms like "multi-grain," "100% wheat," "bran" and even more. That's because these labels don't necessarily mean the item is whole grain. Some common whole grain items include:
- Brown rice
- Whole rye
- Whole grain barley
- Wild rice
- 100 % whole wheat flour
Processed items like bread can still be labeled "wheat" after being refined and colored to give it the signature molasses color. Yes, it's still "wheat" bread but it's not necessarily whole grain. If you're not sure if your food item is whole grain, you can start by looking at the ingredients list. Look for the word "whole" preceding the grain, like "whole wheat." It's ideal if the whole grain is listed first, indicating it's one of the main ingredients.
Other ways to make sure your grains are whole are to look for the Whole Grain Council's whole grain stamp which also tells you how many grams of whole grains are in each serving or if 100 percent of the grain is whole. You can also look for the FDA-approved health claim that states, "In a low-fat diet, whole grain foods may reduce the risk of heart disease and some forms of cancers."
Healthy adult women should have 3-7 servings of whole grains each day, and men should have 4-8. However that can vary depending on unique nutrition needs. One serving equals one slice of bread, 1/2 cup of cooked rice, one small muffin or one cup cereal flakes. If eating whole grains is new to you, you may have to adjust to the nuttier flavor and texture over refined products. Work more whole grains into your diet by choosing whole grain cereal, breads, crackers, waffles, air-popped popcorn and other whole grain bread products.
To learn more about the health benefits of whole grains, visit the Whole Grains Council's website.