Do You Know a Whole Grain When You See It? (Plus an Easy Recipe for a Healthy Diet)

Do you eat whole grains as part of your healthy diet? Are you sure? Or have you just been eating grains you thought were whole but really aren’t?

It is important to know the difference. Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains contain fiber. That means whole grain could help lower cholesterol, reduce your risk of heart disease, prevent cancer, and keep you, um… regular. Overall, whole grains offer more benefits for a healthy diet

But many products that are sold as “healthy” contain not-quite-whole grains. Don’t be fooled. The only way to know for sure is to look for the word “whole” printed somewhere on the label.

If the package doesn’t say “whole grain” the grain is not whole. It is refined. And refined grains are not part of a healthy diet, says Judith Kolish, a dietitian for Health Care Service Corp.

The benefits of whole grain
Whole grains contain disease-fighting nutrients and antioxidants such as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, and iron, according to the Whole Grains Council. All are 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 contains three parts:

  • Germ
  • Bran
  • Endosperm

A grain that has been refined, however, has been broken down. The bran and germ have been removed; only the endosperm remains. That is the fluffy part of the grain. Making foods using refined grains rather that whole grains results in fluffier foods. That’s part of the reason white bread made with refined grains tends to be fluffier than wheat bread made with whole grains.

Removing the germ and bran, however, also removes most of the nutrients and fiber.

How can you know your grain is whole?

You can’t judge a product solely by its color, Kolish says.

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

Companies will sell products that contain “cracked wheat,” “multi-grain,” or even “100 percent wheat.” Chances are none of those products contain whole grains.

There’s only one way to know for sure that a product contains whole grain. Look for those words right on the package. “Whole” should be the first word on the ingredient list. You might also find the word “whole” stamped on the product package. If you’re buying from a baker, even better! All you have to do is to ask whether the baker used whole grains in the product.

Whole grains come in many varieties. They include rice, corn, oats, rye, barley, and popcorn, in addition to wheat. 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.”)

Kolish and Allison Knott, a dietitian and wellness director for FLIK Hospitality Group, say it’s easy to add whole grains to your healthy diet. Start with easy 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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