Health Benefits of Grains

Smart Grain Decisions

When you're choosing among grain products to make your body stronger against illness, follow these tips to get the most fiber- and nutrient-filled forms.

Breakfast cereals: Look for "whole grain" on the front of the package. The words "whole grain" or "whole" appear in front of wheat, oats, rice, corn, barley, or another grain as the first ingredient. Hint: Oats are always whole, even if they're rolled, instant, fine-cut, or coarse-cut.

Breads, tortillas, and crackers:  Look for "whole wheat" or "whole grain" in the product's name. A whole-grain flour, such as whole-wheat flour, should be the first ingredient listed. Wheat flour, enriched flour, and degerminated cornmeal are not whole grain.

Pasta and rice: Only brown rice is whole grain. Look for pasta made from whole-wheat flour. Hint: Some pastas are made with a mix of whole-wheat and white flours; they may be a good stepping stone or compromise if you're having trouble adjusting to the texture of whole-wheat-only pastas.

Your Daily Bread and More

Try some of these easy ways to make grains, especially whole grains, a regular part of your day.

  • Get the first of your three ounces of whole grains from a whole-grain breakfast cereal.
  • Use whole-wheat pasta in hearty soups, hot casseroles, and chilled salads.
  • Make the switch to brown rice, or try a combination of brown and white rice.
  • When you make bread, muffins, biscuits, cookies, pancakes, or waffles, substitute whole-wheat flour for half of the white flour, or add some oats, wheat germ, or bran cereal.
  • Take a whole grain to lunch -- a sandwich on whole-grain bread is one way to go, or add some new appeal to your lunchtime meal with a whole-grain bagel, roll, tortilla, or pita.
  • Snack on popcorn, low-fat granola made with whole oats, brown-rice cakes, or snack mixes made with whole-grain cereal.
  • Sprinkle wheat germ, oat bran, or bran cereal on yogurt, salads, or cut-up fruit. Or use it to coat fish or chicken or to top a tuna casserole. When you prepare a meat loaf or any meat mixture, add some bran cereal or wheat germ instead of bread crumbs.
  • Be adventurous and try whole grains you've never tasted, such as whole-grain barley, bulgur, kasha, amaranth, quinoa, and couscous. Note: If you can't find whole-grain barley, choose scotch barley or pot barley, instead of pearled barley, which has lost a greater amount of fiber and nutrients in processing.

Whole Grain CluesYou may see a "whole grain" seal or emblem on a grain-food package -- some manufacturers have created their own seal to signify that a product is made from whole grains. Or you may see this FDA-authorized health claim: "Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods that are low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers." Foods that bear this claim must contain at least 51 percent or more whole grains by weight and be low in fat.When you know the proper grains to select for your diet, it's important to know where and how to keep them so they don't lose their nutritional value. We will review tips on how to properly store grains in the next section.