Eating whole grains is healthier, but beware

Eating whole grains is one way to make your diet healthier. Most Americans don’t get enough whole grains in their diet. Refined grains have only a fraction of the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and dietary fiber — or roughage — of whole grains.

Cardiovascular health benefits from whole grains which lower the risk of hypertension, diabetes and some forms of cancer, and decrease bad LDL cholesterol. Also, fiber creates a feeling of fullness with fewer calories, which can help to curb your appetite and that also means it helps lower our risk of chronic diseases.

It should be easy to get the recommended three one-ounce servings a day of whole grains from bread, breakfast cereal, baked goods, snacks, pasta, rice and other grains. Many of us think we’re getting whole grains but one study showed that only five percent of Americans are.

One reason why we aren’t not getting as much as we think we are is that what qualifies as whole grain can be confusing. Food labeled as “multi-grain” or “hearty grain” can be confusing because these products may sound healthy, but whole grain ingredients may make up only a small portion of the food. Multigrain only means more than one grain can be found in the list of ingredients. If you’re aiming for whole grains the whole grain must be listed as the first ingredient.

Nearly 5,000 products participate in the Whole Grain Stamp program. This program helps identify foods containing whole grains. The Whole Grains Council recommends a daily goal of 48 grams of whole grains. Don’t confuse this number with grams of carbs or fiber listed on the nutrition facts panel.

On packages that display a “100 percent Whole Grain Stamp” you are guaranteed it provides one serving of whole grains or 16 grams of whole grains per serving.

If the package displays the “Basic Whole Grain Stamp” the product provides a half-serving, or 8 grams, of whole grains per serving.

Start your day with a whole grain such as cooked oatmeal or homemade granola. If you’ve committed to the idea but aren’t sure which is the best choice these facts can help you sort among regular, quick-cooking and instant oatmeal plus those in pre-portioned packets.

Time. There are some differences in cooking times. Rolled oats take longer to cook than quick-cooking oats. The fastest ones to cook are instant oats.

Fiber. All forms of oatmeal have 4 grams of fiber per cooked cup and the same amount of soluble fiber, which is responsible for the feeling of fullness and heart health benefits.

Poorest choice. Watch out for oatmeal in packets. The packets aren’t always the same as the general serving size – which is one-half a cup—on the box label. Be sure you’re paying attention to the fine print when comparing flavors and brands. Many contain added sweeteners increasing the calories. Adding your own sweetener to plain oatmeal allows you to control the amount.

Another confusing grain that comes in multiple forms is rice. White rice is processed to remove the bran and the germ, making it a poor choice. The bran is retained on brown rice; it surrounds the kernel making it chewier, nuttier and richer in nutrients.

To adjust to the new flavor and texture of brown rice, cook a batch each of white and brown then combine them. To make cooked brown rice quick-to-serve you can package leftover rice and freeze it. It warms quickly in the microwave on busy days for whole grain goodness. “Quick” brown rice in the grocery store is precooked. You can prepare it in10 minutes — a quarter of the time needed to cook regular brown rice.

Start slow when increasing how many whole grains you eat. A good starting goal is to choose a whole grain in place of the refined variety. Every small change will be a boost to your health.

Choose popcorn for snacking in place of processed, refined chips and crackers.

Experiment with new grains such as quinoa, barley, kamut, bulgur and teff in place of white potatoes and white rice. Use leftovers in salads and stir fry dishes.

Switch to whole grain pasta in place of the white variety.

Make a sandwich with one slice of white and one slice of whole wheat bread as you adjust to heartier flavor and texture.

Be an Informed Shopper!

Substituting whole grain products for refined ones may help with weight management and decrease your risk of chronic diseases. When shopping, read food labels and look for the “Whole Grain Stamp”!

Sources: Colorado Cooperative Extension, University of Florida Extension


Whole Wheat Banana Bread

1 cup whole wheat flour

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup toasted wheat germ

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

¼ teaspoon salt

4 medium navel oranges, peeled and sectioned

2 medium ripe bananas

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup chopped pecans

In a large bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients. In a food processor or blender, process the oranges, bananas, sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in pecans.

Pour into two 8x4x2 inch loaf pans coated with nonstick spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at or 910-862-4591.