By Berenice Marin, RDN, LDN, Publix Corporate Dietitian
While Americans tend to eat a lot of grains, most are refined grains, which lack the fiber and key nutrients that their whole-grain counterparts contain. That’s why the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend whole grains over refined grains.
Refined vs. Whole Grains
Refined grains have been processed to remove the bran and germ, which also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Refined grain products—like white flour, bread, bagels, and rice—have a finer texture and longer shelf life. Most refined grains are enriched, meaning that certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid) and iron are added back after processing; however, fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains.
Whole grains contain the entire kernel, including the endosperm, bran, and germ. As a result, the nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals, work together to provide maximum nutrition and health benefits.
Serving Up Whole Grains
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends different amounts of calories and foods according to your age and activity level. Overall, whole grains should account for half or more of daily grain intake. For ages nine and up, this means eating three to five servings or more of whole grains every day.
A serving of whole grain can be:
- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or other cooked grain
- 1/2 cup cooked 100% whole-grain pasta
- 1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, such as oatmeal
- 1 ounce uncooked whole-grain pasta, brown rice, or other grain
- 1 slice 100% whole-grain bread
- 1 cup 100% whole-grain ready-to-eat cereal
Finding Whole-Grain Options
Choose foods that list whole-grain ingredients first on their labels, such as brown rice, bulgur, graham flour, oatmeal, whole-grain corn, whole oats, whole rye, or whole wheat.
Try these strategies to increase your whole-grain intake:
- Make simple switches with grains you typically eat. For example, eat 100% whole-wheat bread or bagels instead of white bread or bagels, or brown rice instead of white rice.
- Bake with whole grains. Experiment by substituting whole-wheat spelt or oat flour to half of the flour in your favorite baked goods like pancakes, waffles, muffins, cookies, and breads.
- Substitute with whole-wheat versions. Try brown rice stuffing in baked bell peppers or tomatoes, and whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese.
- Experiment with ancient grains, including quinoa and farro. Cooking whole grains is similar to cooking rice.
- Incorporate whole-grain snacks. Try ready-to-eat whole-wheat cereals or snack crackers. Enjoy popcorn, a whole grain, with little or no added salt and butter.
- Cook extra brown rice or whole-wheat pasta when you have time. Refrigerate half to heat and serve later in the week as a quick side dish.
- Add three-quarters of a cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey when you make meatballs, burgers, or meatloaf.
- Include half a cup of cooked wild rice, brown rice, or barley in your favorite canned or homemade soup.
1 hour, 15 minutes