Monday, September 19, 2011

Whole Grains Month

Are you getting enough whole grains?

September is Whole Grains Month. You may be asking yourself, what is a whole grain and why should I be choosing them?

Whole grains are actually the seeds of various types of cereal grasses. A whole grain contains three parts: bran, endosperm, and germ. Each part of the seed provides different health benefits:
Bran- contains fiber, B vitamins, protein and trace minerals
Endosperm- contains mostly carbohydrate, some protein and small amounts of B vitamins
Germ- contains B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals and something called phytonutrients (substance in plants that have health-protective benefits).

When harvested, most seeds are broken down and the endosperm is the only part that is milled, making white flour. Therefore, many nutrients are lost and the milled flour is mainly carbohydrate. Many white flours or “refined” grains, as they are called, are often enriched to restore key nutrients that are lost during the milling process but still lack fiber and some nutrients.

Now that we know what a whole grain is, how can we be sure we are consuming them? There are a few ways to identify whole grain products:
  • Look for the yellow and black Whole Grain Stamp, provided by Whole Grains Council. There are two different stamps; one is the basic stamp, the other 100% stamp. The basic stamp indicates that ½ of the grains in the product are whole and the number on the stamp signifies how many grams of whole grain per serving. The 100% whole grain stamp shows that 100% of the grains used in that product are whole grains and also indicates the number of grams of whole grain per serving.
  • If there is no stamp on the food product, be sure to check the label for words such as, 100% whole (insert name of grain here). Be skeptical of the sayings “whole grain”, “wheat flour” or “multigrain” on a product, as it may only contain very small amounts of the whole grain itself. If the product has words such as “whole wheat flour” or “whole oats” as the first ingredient, it is highly likely but not guaranteed that product is predominantly whole grain.
  • Just a reminder that fiber is not an indicator of whole grain. Although fiber is a benefit of whole grain, fiber can be added to product, without all of the nutrients of whole grain.

Lastly, and most importantly, what are the health benefits of whole grains? Medical research has shown that whole grain intake reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Other benefits include reduced risk of asthma, healthier carotid arteries, reduction of inflammatory disease risk, lower risk of colorectal cancer, healthier blood pressure levels and less gum disease and tooth loss.

To gain these health benefits, try to consume 3-5 servings of whole grains per day or a total of 48g or more of whole grains daily. If you have yet to try a whole grain, be sure to take a step towards a healthier you this month and include whole grains in your daily meal plan!

(Information provided by the Whole Grains Council)