(MayoClinic.com) Grains, especially whole grains, are an essential part of a healthy diet. All types of grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates and some key vitamins and minerals. Grains are also naturally low in fat. All of this makes grains a healthy option. Better yet, they've been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other health problems.
The healthiest kinds of grains are whole grains. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that at least half of all the grains you eat are whole grains. Chances are you eat lots of grains already. But are they whole grains? If you're like most, you're not getting enough whole grains in your diet. See how to make whole grains a part of your healthy diet.
Also called cereals, grains and whole grains are the seeds of grasses cultivated for food. Grains and whole grains come in many shapes and sizes, from large kernels of popcorn to small quinoa seeds.
Eat whole grains rather than refined grains as often as possible. Whole-grain versions of rice, bread, cereal, flour and pasta can be found at most grocery stores. Many whole-grain foods come ready to eat. These include a variety of breads, pastas and cereals.
Examples of whole grains include:
It's not always easy to tell what kind of grains a product has, especially bread. For instance, a brown bread isn't necessarily whole wheat — the color may come from added coloring. If you're not sure something has whole grains, check the product label or the Nutrition Facts panel. Look for the word "whole" on the package, and make sure whole grains appear among the first items in the ingredient list.
What about whole-wheat white bread?
It may seem like it doesn't add up, but actually white whole-wheat bread is made with whole grains, just as is regular whole-wheat bread. White whole-wheat bread also is nutritionally similar to that of regular whole-wheat bread. So if you prefer the taste and texture of white bread but want the nutritional benefits of whole wheat, choose white whole-wheat bread — not regular, refined white bread.
A word of caution
If all of the grains you eat are whole grains, you may need to take extra care to get sufficient folic acid, a B vitamin. This is because whole grains are not a natural source of folate, and some may not be fortified with folate. Look for whole grains that have been fortified with folic acid, such as some ready-to-eat cereals. Folate is also found in other foods, including fruits, vegetables and legumes. Folic acid is especially important if you're a woman who could become pregnant or is pregnant.
Try these tips to add more whole grains to your meals and snacks:
Eating a variety of whole grains not only ensures that you get more health-promoting nutrients but also helps make your meals and snacks more interesting.
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