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By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.
Choosing breads, cereals, crackers and pasta has become more confusing as food manufacturers adorn their packages with labels advertising them as “whole grain.” The problem is figuring out what is the most nutritious product for my food dollar.
What are the benefits of eating whole grains? Is there an easier way to shop for whole grains than always reading the fine print of the label’s ingredients?
The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends we get at least 48 grams of whole grain each day. It’s not just to add fiber to our diet. Whole grains contain important nutrients that help our bodies function. Eating cereals, breads, crackers, rice and pastas that aren’t whole grain is like putting watered-down gas in your car and expecting it to run well.
Whole grain means that you are eating all parts of the grain, which includes the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains, such as white flour or white rice, usually include only the endosperm or the inner core. The outer bran and germ have been removed in processing.
The bran and germ are where very important nutrients are stored. These include magnesium, zinc, and selenium. Your body does not run well without them.
Magnesium is a mineral that is an important part of more than 300 enzyme functions in our body. It is needed for good blood sugar control and for our hearts to beat normally. Zinc, another mineral, is important for blood sugar control, wound healing and the proper regulation of blood pressure and heart rate. Selenium helps keep the heart muscle strong and decreases your risk of cancer. It is also important during pregnancy, to insure the best growth and development for the baby.
Whole grain is more than whole wheat. Other grains are brown or colored rice, wild rice, corn, popcorn, oatmeal, quinoa, whole rye, sorghum, spelt, amaranth, buckwheat, bulgar, farro, millet and wheat berries.
The Whole Grains Council has made it easier to quickly identify a product with more whole grains. Food manufacturers can voluntarily apply to use the council’s “Whole Grains” stamp to identify the amount of whole grains in a product. The council’s website, www.wholegrainscouncil.org, lists approved products as well as the amount of whole grains in each serving.
Another way to identify a whole grain product is to look at the list of ingredients. You should see the word “whole” before the name of the grain as the first ingredient.
In a recent trip to the grocery store, I did a little comparison shopping (see accompanying chart). You can find whole grains in a variety of products. They can be in products you may not expect, such as popcorn or chips. They also can be missing in products that, from their name, you would expect to have whole grains, such a 12-grain bread. So take time to compare and choose products with the Whole Grains Council’s stamp.
It’s easy to boost the whole grains in your diet by checking a product’s ingredients. For the most nutritious option, look for the word “whole” before the name of the grain, which should be listed as the first ingredient. You can also look for the Whole Grain Council’s stamp. Here are some comparisons:
|Calories||Fiber||Amount of whole grain||Notes|
|Country Hearth Dakota Style 12 Grain bread||1 slice||100||1 gram||None||First ingredient is “enriched” flour.|
|Brownberry Multi-grain bread||1 slice||110||4 grams||18 grams||First ingredient is “whole wheat”; has Whole Grains Council stamp.|
|Brown rice, cooked||½ cup||95||1.5 grams||24 grams||Minute Rice and Uncle Ben’s offers quick-cooking brown rice|
|White rice, cooked||½ cup||102||Less than 0.5 gram||None|
|Quinoa, cooked||½ cup||110||2.5 grams||23 grams|
|Quaker instant oatmeal (original)||1 pkg.||100||3 grams||27 grams|
|Quaker Oats, steel-cut, quick cooking||1 serving (1/3 cup dry)||170||4 grams||32 grams||This is a larger serving than a package of instant.|
|Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop, sea salt popcorn||4 cups||140||4 grams||21 grams|
|Frito Lay’s Baked Tostito Scoops||1 ounce
|140||1 gram||8 grams|
|Frito Lay’s Doritos, Cool Ranch||1 ounce
|Frito Lay Sun Chips, original||1 ounce
|140||3 grams||21 grams|
|Food Should Taste Good, multi-grain tortilla chips||1 ounce
|140||2 gram||18 grams|