MyPlate Mondays: Grains

What is a grain?
Grains include whole grains (whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, whole corn/cornmeal, brown rice) and refined grains (white flour, de-germed cornmeal white bread, white rice)

How much do I need?
Adults need around 6-8 ounces daily.

Make half your grains whole grains.

(Find out how many grains you need. Use this chart to determine what an ounce is.)

whole grains

Grains form the base of any strong diet and should make up around 30% of your plate. Of all the food groups, grains may be the one group Americans get enough of. However, not all grains provide the same health benefits.

We should be careful to distinguish the two types of grains: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains are grains that haven’t had their outer coating removed. This coating provides a lot of the fiber, iron, and vitamins found in grains. Refined grains have been milled, and the outer coating is lost. Oftentimes, refined grains are enriched, meaning vitamins have been added back in (but the lost fiber cannot be added back). Most Americans do not get enough whole grains.

Whole grains tend to be brown, such as brown rice and whole wheat, but that’s not a perfect way to tell. Other grains, like oatmeal, quinoa, and even popcorn are technically whole grains, even though they are lighter in color. Refined grain products are often made with corn flour or white flour, such as bread, tortillas, or noodles.

When buying food in the store, look for the whole grain stamp which indicates that one serving of an item contains at least 50-100% of a serving of whole grain. Since not all foods carry the stamp, don’t just look at the front packaging but read the ingredients list to make sure the first ingredient says “whole” (whole wheat, whole wheat flour, whole grain oats, whole oat flour, etc.).

And most importantly, you want to make at least half of the grains you eat whole grains.

whole grain bread

When you incorporate whole grains into your diet, the health benefits can be drastic. A recent study showed that people who ate whole grains instead of refined grains lost 50% more body fat (and even more, the refined grain group increased their cholesterol levels by 5%). Whole grains also protect against several health conditions and chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Especially important for people trying to lose weight or control diabetes, whole grains offer complex carbohydrates that take longer to break down. This means you can stay fuller for longer without raising your blood sugar levels. In addition, the fiber found in whole grains contributes to proper bowel function and can keep you regular. Fiber also plays a large role in preventing your body from absorbing cholesterol or fatty acids, in turn reducing your blood cholesterol levels.

Smart whole grain food choices:

  • Choose cereals that are high in fiber and whole grains, but also low in sugar (General Mills Fiber One, Kellogg Mini-Wheats, Post Shredded Wheat).
  • Substitute brown rice for white rice and whole grain pasta for white pasta.
  • Have a bowl of popcorn for a mid-day snack (air-popped, with just a dash of salt).
  • For picky children (or adults), make the switch to whole-grain bread gradually and introduce different varieties of bread (multigrain, whole wheat, honey wheat).
  • When baking, try to substitute some of the white flour (about ¼) with whole wheat flour; gradually increase the amount each time until you find a balance you enjoy.
  • And a word of warning from the MyPlate site: Foods labeled with the words “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “100% wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “seven-grain,” or “bran” are usually not whole-grain products.