Amazing Grains: Part I

In Shell Point’s Health Connections series, I recently spoke to a group of Shell Point residents about the amazing benefits of grains. I discuss the health benefits of eating grains in Part I.

Grains are grasses – cereals, cereal grains, or grains grown for their fruit or edible parts. There are two kinds of grains: whole and refined. Whole grains contain entire edible part of a grain, while refined grains have the bran and the germ removed. All grains play an important role in our diet: they provide complex carbohydrates that are essential fuel for the body. But adding whole grains to your diet may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. According to The Whole Grains Council, a non-profit consumer advocacy group working to increase consumption of whole grains for better health, people who eat three daily servings of whole grains have been shown to reduce their risk of heart disease by 25-36%; stroke by 37%; Type II diabetes by 21-27%; digestive system cancers by 21-43%; and hormone-related cancers by 10-40%. Whole grains contain beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants, and they are also a good source of magnesium, selenium, B vitamin, and dietary fiber.

So how do you know if your grain is “whole”? Check the ingredient label: one of the first ingredients must say “whole.” The USDA defines a whole grain food as containing 51% or more whole grain ingredients by weight. “Whole wheat” bread must contain 100% whole wheat flour.  “Wheat” bread often has a combination of whole wheat and refined flours.

The Whole Grains Council helps consumers spot whole grain foods by looking for the Whole Grain Stamp—a special packaging symbol. For the Basic Stamp, the item must contain at least 8 grams of whole grain ingredients per serving. To earn the 100% Stamp, all the grains in the product must be whole grains and the product contains a minimum of 16 grams of whole grain per serving.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we make half of our grains whole each day.  This means we should consume 6 ounces of grains, with at least 3 ounces of them being whole grain.  An ounce is equivalent to ½ cup cooked rice or other grain, 1 slice of bread, 1 small muffin, or 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal flakes.

Check back for Amazing Grains: Part II, where I will review a variety of new grains to consider.