Easy ways to enjoy whole grains

As a supermarket dietitian, I often get asked why whole grains are so important. Whole grains provide a number of nutrients including iron, magnesium, B vitamins, selenium and fiber. Current dietary guidelines recommend that Americans “make half their grains whole.” Although we eat plenty of foods from the grain group, most are processed, refined grains not from whole grains. On average, Americans actually get less than one serving of whole grains each day.

So what’s the difference? Whole grains contain the entire grain seed, or kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm. When the kernel is cracked or crushed and still keep all three components, it is considered a whole grain. If a grain is refined, it goes through processing to remove the bran and the germ from the grain. This is typically done to create a finer texture and improve shelf life, but it also removes many of the vitamins and minerals including almost 80% of its fiber. You may have seen enriched grains listed on ingredient labels. These grains have B vitamins and iron added to them. Most enriched grains are refined.

Studies show that whole grain intake may reduce the risk of heart disease, which is the main reason I have been trying to increase the number of whole grains my family eats.

Here are a few easy ways we’ve added whole grains into our meals at home:

1.Use brown rice instead of white rice. I use brown rice in all of my cooking. Our favorite meals with brown rice are chicken fried rice, stuffed peppers and soup.

2.Replace half of the flour in recipes with whole wheat flour. I do this whenever I bake and it works great.

3.Use whole grain pancake mix. Yes, the whole grain pancakes taste different than the non-whole grain version. But different does not mean bad, and we have no problem finishing all of the pancakes we make.

4.Make the switch to whole wheat pastas. I use whole wheat noodles in all hotdish recipes. I also use the whole wheat pasta in alfredo and with stir-fry. If you (or your family members) aren’t sure about whole wheat pasta, try mixing them half and half you’ll still be getting half of your grains whole!

5.Buy whole wheat flour tortillas. These are all we use at our house. We like them for tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, and breakfast burritos.

6.Search for the whole grain stamp. Many products now have a yellow stamp that easily tells you it contains either 100 percent whole grains or at least 8 grams of whole grains. Products with the stamp guarantee at least half a serving of whole grains.

Tomorrow, April 2, is National Whole Grain Sampling Day. Take part in it by making half your grains whole or trying a new grain.

Katie Wilhelmi is a registered dietitian at the New Ulm Hy-Vee.

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

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