Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel, the bran, germ and endosperm, and all their nutrients. Examples include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal and brown rice.
Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. The milling process gives grains a finer texture and improves their shelf life; however, it also removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are all-purpose white flour, white bread and white rice.
The simplest way to fit whole-grain foods into your healthful diet is to choose bread that lists "whole wheat" or "whole-wheat flour" as its first ingredient. Ingredients are listed by weight, so selecting a product with a whole- grain ingredient listed first is an excellent choice.
Don't be misled by labels claiming, "made with whole grain" or "source of whole grain." Foods labeled with the words "multigrain," "stone-ground," "100 percent wheat," "cracked wheat," "seven-grain" or "bran" are usually not whole-grain products.
Check the first ingredient in the ingredient list to know for sure if it is a whole-grain food or not. Also, color is not an indication of a whole grain. Bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients. Read the ingredient list to determine if it is a whole-grain product.
You can also fit whole grains into a healthful eating plan in more subtle ways:
- Add rolled oats or rolled barley to ground beef (with an egg and seasonings) to make hamburgers or meatloaf with a whole-grain boost.
- Try rolled oats or a crushed, unsweetened whole-grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish, veal cutlets or eggplant parmesan.
- Mix whole-grain cereals (be sure to check the ingredient list to make sure the grain is whole), nuts and dried fruit for an easy, healthful snack.
- Try brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Use brown rice to make stuffing for baked green peppers or tomatoes and whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese.
- Experiment by substituting whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes.
- Try 100 percent whole-grain snack crackers.
- Popcorn, a whole grain, can be a healthful snack if made with little or no added salt and butter.
Set a good example for your children by eating whole grains with meals or as snacks. Let your children select and help prepare a whole-grain side dish. Teach older children to read the ingredient list on cereals or snack-food packages and choose those with whole grains at the top of the list. Help them learn to make half their grains whole grains.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.