As I mentioned in my last post, fiber and whole grains are linked together often, but are not synonymous. Now you know that fiber can be found in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans. So what’s so great about whole grains if you can get your fiber from so many other sources? Grains have much more going for them than just the fiber!
First I’ll explain what whole grains are. There are three parts to a grain seed: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. The bran is the outer husk, this is where the fiber is as well as some B vitamins and antioxidants. The germ is actually the embryo of the seed (you can think of it as similar to the yolk of an egg) and this contains B vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats. The endosperm is what is sold as white flour; this is the largest part of the seed and is mostly starchy carbohydrate and protein with small amounts of vitamins and minerals. You can get the idea from this that when you take away the germ and the bran, most of the micro-nutrients go with them. Processors are required to add back some vitamins and minerals but refined grains still don’t come close to the nutrition of whole grains.
When you are looking at labels in the supermarket there are a few things to look out for. Lots of companies are now putting “made with whole gains” or “multi-grain” on the front of the box or bag in an attempt to get you to buy them. These products might have only a sprinkling of whole grains in them. Take the time to turn the package around and read the ingredients list. Since Ingredients must be listed from greatest quantity to least, you want to see whole grains at the top of the list. The word whole along with whatever grain it is must be there (as in whole wheat flour) if it says wheat flour then it is refined. Some other whole grains you may see on packages include barley, corn, oats, brown rice, rye, and quinoa (to name just a few). Did you notice corn on the list? Yes, corn is a grain, and air-popped popcorn is a great whole grain snack!
How much should you be eating? For the average adult, the minimum amount is 3-4 oz per day. Since a slice of bread or 1/2 of an english muffin is a 1 oz equivalent, you can see that it’s easy to reach the minimum. The recommendation is also to make sure that half of all the grains you consume are whole grains. I’m going to stick with my usual recommendation to stay away from processed foods as much as possible. The more foods are processed, the fewer vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients remain in them and I need all the nutrients I can get!
For more information you can visit the Whole Grain Council website. If you see one of their stamps on a product you know it contains whole grains, but don’t let that limit you! There are plenty of products out there that contain whole grains which don’t carry the stamp. In order to use the stamp each company must pay a fee as well as show that their product complies. There are some good store brands which do not bother to go through this process; the most foolproof method is to read the ingredients list.