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Tips for Reaping the Benefits of Whole Grains

Tips for Reaping the Benefits of Whole Grains

Eating more whole grains is an easy way to add a layer of "health insurance" to your life. Whole grains are packed with nutrients including protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium). A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer. Whole-grain diets also improve bowel health by helping to maintain regular bowel movements and promote growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.

Yet only 10% of Americans consume the recommended three servings a day.

Why? For one thing, it's not always easy to tell just which foods are whole grain. Scan the bread, cereal, snack or rice aisle, and virtually every package touts its whole-grain goodness. But not all of them actually are whole grain. Terms like "multigrain," "100% wheat," "cracked wheat," "organic," "pumpernickel," "bran," and "stone ground" may sound healthy, but none actually indicates the product is whole grain.

Further, many Americans have the perception that whole grains just don't taste good, or that it's difficult to work them into their daily diets.

To help you start reaping the benefits of a diet rich in whole grains, we got the skinny on how to tell which foods are made of whole grains, along with suggestions on how to fit the recommended servings into your healthy eating plan.

Know Your Whole Grains

A whole grain contains all edible parts of the grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. The whole grain may be used intact or recombined, as long as all components are present in natural proportions.

One simple way to find whole grains is to look for the FDA-approved health claim that reads, "In a low fat diet, whole grain foods may reduce the risk of heart disease and some forms of cancers." This is found on whole-grain products that contain at least 51% whole-grain flour (by weight) and are also low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

Another easy way to find whole-grain products is to look for the Whole Grain Council's whole grain stamp, which shows how many grams of whole grains are in each serving. If all of the grain is whole grain, the stamp also displays a "100%" banner.

Whole Grains and Fiber

Whole grains can be an excellent source of fiber. For most people, whole grains are their diet's best source of fiber.

Most whole-grain sources yield from 1-4 grams of fiber per serving, comparable to fruits and vegetables, and just the right amount when spread throughout the day.

Can't fiber supplements give you the same benefit? While you get plenty of fiber from these supplements, you'll miss out on all the other nutritional benefits of whole grains.