The most recent 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming “at least half of all grains as whole grains”. The benefits associated with whole grains are numerous: cholesterol management, bowel health, reduced heart disease risk, improved blood sugar control, and more. Many individuals feel that if they simply switch “white” foods for “brown” foods they are meeting the whole grains guideline, but this may not be the case. To review, let’s look at the definition of “whole” grain vs. “refined” grain:
• Whole Grains: Whole grains are the entire seed of a plant, which includes the bran, germ, and endosperm.
• Refined Grains: Refined grains are created by processing whole grains to remove the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm. The process not only removes most of the fiber, but also up to 25% of the grain’s protein and many essential nutrients like folate, thiamin, and niacin.
Look for products labeled as containing “whole grain” or “whole wheat” when grocery shopping. Many foods you normally buy such as pasta, bread, and cereal are now made with more whole grains; just look at the label. However, don’t get stuck in the rut of simply choosing whole wheat vs. white bread or brown vs. white rice. Dozens of other whole grain foods are available, which can add variety and essential nutrients to your diet. Try some of these other great whole grain options below in place of your usual starches such as rice, bread, boxed cereal, and potatoes.
• Wheat Berries: Have you ever wondered where your flour comes from? Flour is made from ground and processed whole wheat berries. However, flour is not the only way this whole grain can be enjoyed. When cooked, wheat berries are very similar to brown rice with a chewy texture and slightly nutty flavor. They can be prepared in the same manner as you would rice and can be used as a cereal instead of oatmeal or added to soups and salads. A ½ cup serving of wheat berries contains 3.5 grams of protein and 4.3 grams of fiber. For easy tips and recipes on preparing this grain, click here.
• Quinoa: Although quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is not technically a whole grain, it can be easily substituted for other grains like rice or pasta in recipes. Quinoa is actually a small seed packed with a lot of nutrients and is a complete protein. In fact, just one cup of cooked quinoa provides 5 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein. The other benefit of quinoa is that it cooks much faster than traditional grains; simply cover with water or broth and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Check out this video for more information on how to prepare a healthy Quinoa Pilaf with Almonds and Apricots recipe.
• Oats: Oats are full of both soluble and insoluble fiber, a combination that contributes to its positive impact on cholesterol and heart health. The oatmeal sold as cereal in the store is made from oat kernels that have been steamed and rolled flat, making them easier to prepare. Studies show that regular consumption of fiber-rich oatmeal can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. When purchasing oatmeal, it is best to purchase the plain oats in bulk rather than the flavored oatmeal in packets, which often has a lot of added sugar. Instead, flavor your oatmeal at home by mixing in: cinnamon, dried fruit, apples, nut butters, and more. Click here for information on how to prepare oatmeal on the stove top or the microwave.
• Barley: Barley is another whole grain similar to rice. People most commonly use barley in soups, however, this chewy grain can be used in place of rice or couscous (coarsely ground wheat pasta) as a side too. Cooked barley has a similar nutrient profile to the other whole grains, providing 6 grams of fiber and 4 grams of fiber per cup. Click here for great recipes using barley.
If you are interested in learning more about how to choose more whole grains or consume a healthier diet, contact your local VA Nutrition and Food Service department or your PACT primary care provider to make an appointment with your Registered Dietitian. Many facilities also offer cooking classes where you can learn more about how to prepare these healthy whole grains!
Deborah Davis is an inpatient dietitian at the Memphis VA Medical Center. Her grandfather is a 95 year old WWII Veteran so she has always had a desire to give back to Vets, helping them live healthier by eating well.