If awards were given out for the healthiest foods, whole grains would win a gold medal every time. Compared with refined grains, they have more fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants. Whole grains are also a healthy way to control weight Because they contain fiber, whole grains are less energy dense (provide less calories per amount of food) and so help you feel full longer on fewer calories.

What’s a whole grain?

Grains are the seeds of plants. All grains contain carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and are low in fat. They are divided into two groups: whole grains and refined grains. The entire grain kernel is made of the outer bran layer, the germ and the endosperm, where protein and carbohydrates are stored. The germ and bran contain niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc, and bran is a rich source of fiber. When whole grain is milled to produce refined grain, the bran and germ -- and the nutrients found there -- are removed. Although B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid, and iron are added back in, the fiber is still missing. One hundred percent whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal are examples of whole-grain products.

Whole-grain benefits

The amount of grains you need each day depends on your age, gender and level of physical activity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines, most adults should have at least 6 ounces of grains each day, at least half of which should be whole grains. An ounce of grain is equal to 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal or a half-cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal.

Whole grains are good for your health in these ways, the USDA says:

  • The fiber in certain whole grains (oats and barley) helps reduce your cholesterol levels and may lower your risk for heart disease. Fiber also may reduce constipation.

  • Magnesium found in whole grains helps keep bones and muscles healthy.

  • Selenium found in whole grains protects cells against oxidation and helps the immune system function efficiently.

  • Having at least 3 ounces of whole grains a day may help keep your weight under control.

Enjoy whole grains

These tips can help you add whole grains to your diet:

  • Eat whole grains such as oatmeal, whole-grain waffles or whole wheat flakes for breakfast. Some whole-grain breads today are hard to tell apart from white bread made from refined flour, so check the food labels.

  • Check food labels for a whole grain claim or these ingredients: whole wheat, cracked wheat, whole cornmeal, whole rye, brown rice and whole-grain barley.

  • Try something new! A variety of delicious whole-grain breads, pastas, tortillas, cereals and crackers are available for snacks and dinners.

Medical Reviewer: [Fiveash, Laura DrPH, MPH, RD, Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Lambert, J.G. M.D.] Last Annual Review Date: 2008-03-10T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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