Everybody knows that whole grain foods are good for health. After all, studies show they can decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes and can even help manage weight. Yet despite the increase in “whole grain” awareness, many Americans still don’t get enough (especially little ones).
What exactly is a whole grain? It contains all parts of the naturally occurring grain – the endosperm, germ and bran. Refined grains, on the other hand, remove the nutritious germ and bran leaving the starchy endosperm. Health experts recommend Americans consume 3 whole-grain servings each day – making half their grains whole. The good news is food manufacturers have gotten really good at making whole grains taste delicious.
So without further ado, here are 7 ways to get more nutritious whole grains in your family’s diet.
1. Scan the label: The label gives you all the information you need to identify whole grain foods. First, look for revealing claims like “100 percent whole grain,” that tell you exactly what’s in the product. Then peak at the ingredient line to see if whole grains are the first ingredient: “whole wheat, whole oats, whole barley, brown rice.” Then see if there’s a whole grain stamp on the label (see below). The stamp, created by the Whole Grains Council, reveals how many grams are in the product. A serving of whole grains contains 16 grams (16g) making the daily goal 48g (3 servings per day).
Check out all the products with a whole grain stamp – you might be surprised how much (or little) whole grains your favorite products contain. (pictured above)
2. Pick the perfect whole grain cereal. Cereal plays an important role in the diets of both children and adults. In fact, studies show children who eat ready-to-eat cereals have better nutrient intakes and weigh less than those who skip cereal. Because no one should start their day with a bunch of sugar and refined grains, aim for a whole grain cereal without a lot of added sugar. According to Consumer Reports, many kids’ cereals are low in fiber and whole grains and can contain up to half sugar (by weight).
One of the best ready-to-eat cereals is Cheerios – it is made from whole grain oats, contains 1g of sugar and 3g of fiber per serving and is an excellent source of iron, a nutrient vital for growing children. You might opt to choose a sweeter cereal as long as it’s packed with whole grains. One example is Frosted Mini Wheats. The first ingredient is whole grain wheat, it contains 5g of fiber and 10g of sugar per serving (unless you go with their unfrosted product). When picking out cereals, aim for whole grain to be the first ingredient, and for at least 3g of fiber and no more than 10g of sugar per serving.
3. Experiment with whole grain pastas: Lasagna, spaghetti and macaroni and cheese can all be made with whole grain pasta. These products are easy to locate because they have “whole grain” in the product description, meaning they contain at least 50 percent whole grain (example is “whole grain blend pasta.”) Your family will not be able to tell the difference when you use the same tasty ingredients. I recently made lasagna for my husband’s side of the family and after they licked their plates clean, I told them I used whole grain noodles. They couldn’t believe it. (What I didn’t tell them was the pasta contained flax too!).
4. Use whole grain bread for sandwiches: What family doesn’t rely on bread as a lunchtime staple? Yet choosing a nutritious bread can be tricky. That’s because there are misleading product descriptions like “multigrain,” “cracked wheat” and “7-grain” which does not tell you whether or not the grains are whole. Your best bet is to pick a 100% whole grain bread. Make sure you compare and contrast the amount of fiber in different products. Aim for at least 2g of fiber per slice.
5. Try a “side” of whole grain: Whether you’re making a tasty stir fry or chicken stew in the slow cooker, try some whole grain sides like brown rice, whole grain couscous or quinoa.
6. Give your breakfast a whole-grain makeover: There are so many ways to eat whole grains at breakfast. Try some tasty whole grain waffles but beware of “made with whole grain” claims which means the product may only contain 10% whole grains. Use whole wheat flour for pancakes and muffins. For a whole-oats twist on pancakes, check out this mom-submitted recipe.
7. Stock up on whole grain snacks: Popcorn makes a great whole grain snack (watch out – popcorn is a choking hazard for kids under 4 years of age). A recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found people who ate popcorn ate more whole grains and consumed more fiber than those who didn’t eat popcorn. Other smart snack choices include whole wheat crackers, whole grain bars and whole grain chips (like Sun Chips).
This doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy and serve your favorite refined grains. But if you experiment with the wide range of whole grain products out there, you’ll be sure to find your favorites. By making at least half your grains “whole,” you’ll be giving your family’s health – and your own – a big boost.
Be sure to check out the latest on Maryann’s blog: 7 Nutiriton Must-Do’s for Family Meal Planning!!!
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen is a registered dietitian, mother of two and creator of www.RaiseHealthyEaters.com, a blog dedicated to providing moms with the most credible nutrition advice. You can follow her updates on Twitter http://twitter.com/mtjacobsen