Consuming More Whole Grains


These creative, real-world strategies can help turn the foods we love into more healthful options.


It's no secret that most Americans aren't eating enough whole grains, which provide important vitamins, minerals, and fiber for optimal health, even though there's plenty of information available to help them choose healthful foods rich in whole grains.


As you know, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend all adults make at least one-half of their grains whole, which amounts to three to five servings of whole grains per day (or at least 48 g). Children require slightly less but still should get at least two to three servings daily.


According to the Whole Grains Council website, the average American eats less than one serving of whole grains each day, and some studies have shown 40% of people don't consume any whole grains in the course of their day.


Why is this so important?
When people opt for more refined grains most (if not all) of the time, they're missing out on a treasure trove of nutrients. Whole grains are excellent sources of vitamin E, B vitamins, fiber, and the minerals zinc, iron, and magnesium. Like other plant-based foods, they're abundant in health-boosting hytochemicals, including polyphenols and phytoestrogens. They contain cholesterol-lowering phytosterols and an abundance of gut-friendly insoluble fiber. In summary, whole grains offer a unique and powerful constellation of nutritional attributes that many people are missing in their diets.


Yet we may not intentionally be missing out on all the benefits of whole grains.  Finding whole grain products in the supermarkets often is difficult when they currently make up only 10% to 15% of grains available on the shelves.  Consuming half of your grains as whole grains is a challenge  when refined grain foods clog the shelves, are cheaper, and are more convenient   And for others who know they should be integrating more whole grains into their diet, a lack of cooking confidence may stop them in their tracks.


Getting Whole Grain Goodness Into Family Meals

For days when time is in short supply, stock pantries with cracked, split, or ground whole grains, as these can be prepared in less time. Cracked wheat can be prepared in five to 15 minutes [depending on how refined it is], Use a low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth in place of water to enhance the flavor. Or lightly sauté grains in a nonstick pan before adding the liquid to give them a nuttier, toasted flavor.


Thicken stews or casseroles with whole grain flours or wheat bran to sneak whole grains onto dinner plates or substitute whole grain bread or cracker crumbs for the typically more refined variety used in meatloaf.   When it comes to stews, using certain whole grains as a substitute for ground beef applications can be both unique and satisfying. Try substituting wheatberries or farro for ground beef in your favorite chili recipe. It's truly delicious!


On weekends or whenever you have more time to spare, cooking ahead can benefit families for days later. Whole grains can sometimes take longer to prepare.  On days when you have more time, prepare larger quantities to be used on other days or bake breads, muffins, or cookies with whole grain ingredients and freeze for later use.


For snacks, transform rolled oats into granola bars or cookies and include the family's favorite add-ins, noting that breakfast is another easy way to fit in some whole grains. Try breakfast burritos with eggs, low-fat cheese, and salsa on a whole grain tortilla or French toast made with whole grain breads.


Quick Bites for Busy Professionals

Various whole grain snacks that could work for the jet-setting (or otherwise just busy) set are available in supermarkets, including popcorn, crackers, granola, and oats. Or if you're looking to satisfy a sweet tooth craving, whole wheat chips or whole grain power bars are a good option as well.  Whole grain bread on hand can work for on-the-go sandwiches, as can cereal pre-portioned in baggies, which you can easily grab when running out the door.


Pre-portioned snacks are a great idea, whether you pack your own favorite whole grain snacks or buy them that way, like single-serving packs of popcorn or instant oatmeal.


For people with pickier tastes, prepare your own whole grain snacks from scratch. To do so, mix 100% whole grain cereal with whatever dried fruit, seeds, and nuts suit. Or spread half of a 100% whole grain English muffin with natural peanut butter. These are quick and easy snacks that are simple to take with you when you're on the go, and both fit the tastes of adults and children.


Look for fiber first when searching for how to fit more whole grains into your day. Choose foods with at least 2.5 g of fiber per serving  (good fiber foods) or, better yet, those with at least 5 g (high-fiber foods).


Favorite choices for fast and delicious on-the-go whole grain snacks include one slice of toasted whole grain bread with melted cheese, 1/2 cup cooked whole grain pasta with veggies, and air-popped popcorn with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.


Kid-Friendly Ideas for Picky Eaters

Sometimes, kids can be the hardest to please, especially when a new, unfamiliar food is introduced. To get around this difficulty, use "stealth health" tactics. Using a whole grain as a component to batters and crusts is a great way to sneak them in. For instance, adding cooked quinoa and farro to a pancake or waffle batter works well, along with using cooked whole grains in batters that are usually deep fried, like beer batter or tempura batter.


Leave the guilt behind, as it's the parents' duty to get their children to eat healthfully. Don't be afraid to hide whole grains in other foods once in a while. There's no harm in sneaking in whole grains when possible to increase consumption. While it might be obvious there's whole grain rice on the plate, there's also an opportunity to mix whole grains in soups, casseroles, or other mixed dishes.


Even easier, pair an unfamiliar taste with something kids already know and love, as this can make eating a new food less intimidating. Pairing whole grains with familiar flavors is a great way to get even the fussiest of eaters to try them. Peanut butter and jelly can be tucked into whole grain crackers or bread; instant brown rice stir-fried with light soy sauce, ginger, and vegetables is a great stand-in for fried white rice; and whole grain pasta blends are hard to resist when covered with marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese.  Two other suggestions: peanut butter/banana roll-ups, which consist of a whole wheat wrap, spread with a bit of peanut or other nut butter, and half a banana sliced lengthwise, rolled up together. Sprinkle  a little wheat germ for additional nutrients.  Or, prepare a whole grain egg-in-the-hole, which is a slice of 100% whole wheat bread with a hole cut out using a small drinking glass. Just crack an egg into the hole and pan fry using canola oil [cooking spray].


When trying to get the teen-or-younger set to try any new food, the key is in the presentation. Besides bread and cereal, picky eaters might reject brown rice, bulgur, pasta, etc, just because it looks and tastes different.  To avoid this, use the same creative tactics that will work for younger kids: pair unfamiliar whole grain additions with foods teens already like.


When coaxing anyone to give more whole grains a try, and all else fails, translate the health messages on food packaging in stores: not just the nutrition label but all the other health messages on the package. This can help clear any confusion and help provide a simple solution, such as 'X and Y brands are the top two whole grain options I have for pasta'. This is a clear message. Enjoy!


Source: Juliann Shaeffer