All types of grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates and some key vitamins and minerals, but whole grains — the healthiest kinds of grains — in particular are an important part of a healthy diet.
Grains are naturally high in fiber, helping you feel full and satisfied — which makes it easier to maintain a healthy body weight. Whole grains are also linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other health problems.
Also called cereals, grains and whole grains are the seeds of grasses cultivated for food. Grains and whole grains come in many shapes and sizes, from large kernels of popcorn to small quinoa seeds.
Whole grains. These grains are either present in their whole form or ground into a flour while retaining all parts of the seed (bran, germ and endosperm). Compared with other types of grains, whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as B vitamins, iron, folate, selenium, potassium and magnesium. Whole grains are either single foods, such as brown rice and popcorn, or ingredients in products, such as buckwheat in pancakes or whole-wheat flour in bread.
Make at least half the grains in your diet whole grains. You can find whole-grain versions of rice, bread, cereal, flour and pasta at most grocery stores. Many whole-grain foods, including a variety of breads, pastas and cereals, are ready to eat.
If you’re not sure something has whole grains, check the product label or the Nutrition Facts panel. Look for the word “whole” on the package, and make sure whole grains appear among the first items in the ingredient list.
If all of the grains you eat are whole grains, you may need to take extra care to get sufficient folic acid, a B vitamin. While most refined-grain products are fortified, whole grains are not typically fortified with folic acid.
Look for whole grains that have been fortified with folic acid, such as some ready-to-eat cereals. Eat plenty of other folate-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables and legumes. Folic acid is especially important for women who could become pregnant or are pregnant.
How to enjoy more whole grains in your diet
Try these tips to add more whole grains to your meals and snacks:
- Enjoy breakfasts that include whole-grain cereals, such as whole-wheat bran flakes (some bran flakes may just have the bran, not the whole grain), shredded wheat or oatmeal.
- Substitute whole-wheat toast or whole-grain bagels for plain bagels. Substitute low-fat muffins made with whole-grain cereals, such as oatmeal or others, for pastries.
- Make sandwiches using whole-grain breads or rolls. Swap out white-flour tortillas with whole-wheat versions.
- Replace white rice with quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, barley or bulgur.
- Feature wild rice or barley in soups, stews, casseroles and salads.
- Add whole grains, such as cooked brown rice or whole-grain bread crumbs, to ground meat or poultry for extra bulk.
- Use rolled oats or crushed whole-wheat bran cereal in recipes instead of dry bread crumbs.
Eating a variety of whole grains not only ensures that you get more health-promoting nutrients but also helps make your meals and snacks more interesting.
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