September is National Whole Grain Month – perfect timing for planning healthy back-to-school meals and snacks.

Eating a diet rich in whole grain foods can decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and digestive disorders. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines 2010 recommend that adults eat at least 3 full servings of whole grains per day and that kids eat at least 2 to 3 servings. A full serving provides 16 grams of whole grain at a time.

 

 

Most people have heard of whole grains and know they are healthy but, in reality, the average American eats less than one full serving of whole grains per day. Many foods that look and sound healthy, such a “multi-grain” cereal or “high fiber” bread may in fact be refined grains. A grain, whether it’s wheat, corn, rye or barley to name just a few, has several layers called the germ, the endosperm and the bran. When the entire grain kernel is left in a product, it is considered a “whole” grain. When a grain is “refined,” the bran and the germ are removed, along with most of the fiber and about half of the other key nutrients. Some of the nutrients and fiber can be added back, which makes the food “fortified,” but the whole foods with the original nutrients intact are the foods that provide the most benefit. Consumers need to look for the words “100% whole grain” or the stamp of the Whole Grain Council on labels to be sure to get the best choices. The words “100% whole grain” mean that there are at least 16 grams (a full serving) of whole grain, while the Whole Grain Council stamp by itself means at least 8 grams (1/2 serving) of whole grain.

How can a person get all the whole grains they need? It’s as easy as starting the day with oatmeal or a slice of 100% whole wheat bread, having whole grain rye or wheat crackers with your soup or salad for lunch, and having whole wheat pasta or brown rice for dinner. Kids can enjoy a bowl of whole grain oat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich made with 100% whole wheat bread for lunch, and a snack of popcorn or half of a 100% whole grain English muffin with pizza sauce and a sprinkle of cheese for an afternoon snack.

The following list gives a few suggestions for full servings of whole grains. Try to get at least 3 servings per day.

 

  • 1/2 – 1 cup cooked oatmeal, quinoa, barley, brown rice or whole wheat pasta.
  • 1 serving of crackers such as Triscuit™ or Rye Krisp™.
  • 1 slice of 100% whole wheat bread, a 100% whole wheat mini bagel or a 100% whole wheat English muffin.
  • 3-4 cups of popcorn.

 

Katie is a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes education, cardiovascular health, and weight management. Her primary interest is to help people regain their health and learn to better manage a chronic illness.