Grains provide many nutrients vital for health and it is recommended that at least half of all the grains you eat be whole- grains. People who eat whole grains as part of their healthful diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases, such as heart disease. Consuming whole grains as part of a healthful diet also can help with weight management. Check www.choosemyplate.gov for daily minimum recommendations of whole-grain consumption based on your age and physical activity level.
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or other cereal grains are grain products. Whole grains are important sources of nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and fiber. Look for the word "whole" at the beginning of the ingredients listed on grain- food packages. Foods that say "multi-grain," 100-percent wheat," "high fiber," "stone-ground," "seven-grain" or bran are usually not whole-grain foods. Food color is also not a good indicator of whole-grain. Bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients.
Search Nutrition Facts labels to choose whole-grain breads, breakfast cereals and other grain foods lower in sodium, saturated fat and sugar. Also, find the fiber measurement on the label. If the product provides at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, it is a good source of fiber. If it contains 5 or more grams of fiber per serving, it is an excellent source of fiber.
Buy whole-grain products that are tightly packaged and well sealed. Grains should always look and smell fresh. Be sure to check the expiration date and storage guidelines on the packages. Whole-grain foods need to be handled with care. Over time, and if not stored properly, oils in whole grains can cause spoilage. Most whole-grain flours keep well in the refrigerator for two to three months and in the freezer for six to eight months. Cooked brown rice can be refrigerated three to five days and can be frozen for six months.
Purchase small quantities of whole-grain products to reduce spoilage. Whole-grain bread is best stored at room temperature, tightly closed, in its original package. Storing the bread in the refrigerator causes it to lose moisture quickly and become stale. Most whole grain products, in sealed packages, can be stored in the freezer.
Use whole grains at meals. Use whole-grain breads for sandwiches, try brown rice stuffing, use whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese. Try rolled oats or crushed, unsweetened, whole-grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish or pork chops. Try an unsweetened, whole-grain ready-to-eat cereal as croutons in a salad.
Snack on ready-to-eat whole-grain cereals. Add whole-grain flour or oatmeal to baked goods. Try 100-percent-whole-wheat crackers. Popcorn, a whole grain, can be a healthful snack if made with little or no added salt or butter.
Broaden your whole-grain consumption by substituting a whole-grain product for a refined one and using the Nutrition Facts label to help you choose more whole grains at the grocery store. Help your family adapt to whole grains by slowly adding them into your favorite recipes, meals and snacks.
Learn more about whole grains and find recipes using whole-grains by visiting the Whole Grains Council at www.wholegrains council.org/recipes.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.