As the Y’s registered dietitian nutritionists, we aim to promote healthy living and clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding proper eating.
Last month, I tackled the topic of how fat can fit into our diets in a beneficial way. This month, I’m looking at grains.
Grains are foods that have been derived from wheat, barley, rice, oats, or any other cereal grain. The grain group includes foods such as breads, pasta, rice, tortillas, cereals, oatmeal and grits.
They provide a number of nutritional benefits such as fiber, B-vitamins, folic acid and iron. The problem is that most Americans are consuming refined grains instead of the whole grains. Let’s dig into these two subgroups.
What’s the difference between whole grains and refined grains?
Whole grains contain the complete grain—the bran, germ and endosperm. Examples include whole wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn,
popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, triticale, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa and sorghum.
Refined grains have been milled (ground into flour or meal) which removes the bran and germ. This gives grains a finer texture and improves their shelf life. However, this process takes out some important nutrients, including B-vitamins, iron and dietary fiber. Some examples of refined grains are wheat flour, enriched bread and white rice.
What about enriched grains? Enriched grains are refined grains, but have some nutrients added back in. They still lack the full range of nutrients as whole grain products, specifically fiber and antioxidants.
Choose whole grains to get maximum benefits!
Since whole grains provide us with essential nutrients, they can be an important part of our diet. A diet rich in whole grains can help to lower cholesterol, improve blood sugar control and manage weight. Refined grains do not offer these same benefits.
Tips for shopping
At the grocery, check the ingredient list for foods that list a whole grain as the first ingredient. You can also look for the whole grain stamp on most whole grain products. Try to avoid foods that have enriched or bleached flour listed as the first ingredient.
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
One more serious thing to keep in mind is portion control. While whole grains are important and offer nutritional benefits, there’s a limit. The daily recommendation for grains is between 6-8 ounces/servings. And 1 serving is actually quite small!
But what about gluten?
In the last several years, we have been hearing more about gluten-free foods and how gluten may affect our health. Gluten is a protein that is found in some whole grains. For most individuals, it does not affect their health in an adverse way. However, for some who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it should not be consumed in order to avoid chronic symptoms and health concerns. Otherwise, cutting gluten out of a diet isn’t recommended without a doctor's diagnosis.