Eating right can help improve your cardiovascular and overall health, but food labels and names can be confusing. You’re not alone if you often wonder what type of breads or cereals to choose. The short answer is to opt for whole grains and avoid refined grains.
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The “whole” in whole grains
In their original, unprocessed state, grains like wheat, oats, kasha and rice have outer layers or coats. These layers contain healthy vitamins, minerals and fiber as well as carbohydrates, some protein and healthy, unsaturated fats.
Processed or refined grains have the healthy outer layers stripped off. Food manufacturers originally removed the outer layers of the grains in order to create a commercially successful product for consumers. Although foods made from processed grains often have nutrients added back in to make them healthier, even enhanced or “enriched” foods made from refined grains lack the healthy properties that naturally occur in whole, unprocessed grains.
Benefits of whole grains
Whole grain benefits go beyond nutrition. Foods made from whole grains can help you avoid weight gain. The outer coatings contain bran or fiber, which keeps you feeling full longer. And that same fiber helps your digestive system function well, helping you to be more comfortable.
Research has shown that eating a diet rich in whole grains helps prevent diabetes, and that it has heart-protective benefits as well. Refined grains in the diet don’t have these benefits, so whole grains are a smart choice.
Simple shopping tips
Buying prepared foods can be tricky, especially when you look for foods made from whole grains. These tips can help:
- Check the label. The first ingredient listed should say “100 percent whole grain.” Avoid any food that mentions the phrase “enriched” or “refined.” That’s a giveaway that the item contains refined grains.
- Look for the Whole Grain Stamp from the nonprofit Whole Grains Council. The “Whole Grain” stamp tells you that the product contains at least a half serving of whole grains.
Below is a quick “cheat sheet” for some popular whole-grain items that you can find at most markets.
- Oatmeal – steel cut, instant or Old Fashioned
- 100 percent whole wheat breads, English muffins or crackers
- 100 percent whole wheat tortillas or flatbreads
- 100 percent whole grain (wheat, corn, oat) cereals
Of course, you can cook or bake your own items using some of the healthy products listed below.
- Whole wheat couscous
- Wild rice
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat pasta