This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.
Often, we hear about the benefits of eating whole grains, and that they should be included as part of a healthy diet. But what, exactly, is a “whole grain”? How can you choose which grains to add to your diet?
A whole grain is the entire, unprocessed grain, just like it was grown on the plant. The grain is made up of three edible parts – the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the outer skin of the grain, full of important antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber. The germ is not the same type of germ that causes people to be sick. It is the part of the seed that would grow into a new plant, if it was planted. It contains more B vitamins and some protein, minerals and healthy fats. The endosperm is the largest portion of the grain. It’s full of starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Foods made with “refined” flours such as white and enriched wheat flour include only part of the grain — the endosperm — and are not whole grain. They are missing many of the nutrients found in whole-grain flours and foods. Examples of whole grain products include 100 percent whole-grain bread, pasta, tortilla and crackers.
Some people may have health conditions, such as celiac disease, that cause them to be unable to eat gluten. Even for people who are gluten-free, there are many whole-grain options. Amaranth, buckwheat, corn, quinoa and rice are gluten-free and still have the benefit of being whole grains. Many can be found in the health food section of the supermarket.
When choosing foods at the grocery store, labels can be confusing. Be sure to read labels closely to make sure that the foods you are choosing have plenty of whole-grain goodness. Look for 16 grams of whole grains per serving for the greatest nutrition.
What do the labels mean?
• For a food to be labeled as 100 percent whole grain, all of the grain must be whole.
• For a food to have a health claim on the label as a “whole-grain food,” the Food and Drug Administration requires only 51 percent of the total weight must be whole grain.
• Many foods have a label that reads “contains whole grains.” Any food that has even a small amount of whole grain can make this claim, so check the ingredients for the actual amount of whole grains.
To learn more about healthy food choices, go to choosemyplate.gov. For more information about Health Department services, check out our website at gethealthycarsoncity.org or “like” us on Facebook at facebook.com/CCHHS.
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