You've made it through four weeks, and if you've been keeping your food diary and following the lessons, you should be seeing some results when you look in the mirror or step on the scale. You've also made it through the most difficult lessons, I think. This week's lesson is easy: I'm going to teach you about whole grains.
Grains and cereals, such as wheat, oats, barley, rice, corn and spelt, have been a staple of the human diet for thousands of years. All of them are great sources of energy, vitamins and minerals -- that's why they are the base of the USDA's food pyramid. Of course, some are better than others; you'll find grains and cereals in breads, pasta and breakfast cereals, but you'll also find them in junk foods and snacks.
Whole grains include the entire seeds, which are rich in nutrients, fiber and phytochemicals that help to reduce your risk of several diseases. Refined grains have had parts of the seeds removed, so that rice dishes, breads and pasta turn out to be lighter and more delicately flavored than whole grain products. Unfortunately, the most nutritious parts of the seeds are removed, although white refined flour is enriched with some added B vitamins and iron.
The parts removed include the bran and the germ. The bran is the outer covering and contains lots of fiber, protein, niacin, vitamin B-6 and several minerals. The germ is the part of the seed that germinates and becomes a plant. The germ is packed with lots of vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium (it's an important mineral -- magnesium deficiency can cause fatigue and other problems), potassium and selenium. The part that remains after refining is called the "endosperm," which makes up the bulk of the seed. This is mostly starch, which supplies the germinating plant with energy.
The biggest loss in refined grains is the fiber -- important because so many people don't get nearly enough fiber in their diets. A slice of white bread contains only about one-half a gram of fiber, quite a bit less than a slice of 100-percent whole grain bread, that has at least two grams. Fiber is necessary for good health, because it keeps your digestive system functioning properly, but fiber does more than just help your digestive system: you can't digest fiber, so it helps to slow down digestion and absorption of foods, which keeps you feeling full longer.
One type of fiber, called "beta glucan," absorbs cholesterol and removes it through the bowels. Oats are rich in beta glucans, so adding more oats to your diet will help reduce your cholesterol levels. Whole grains contain other phytochemicals too, such as lignans, flavonoids and polyphenols -- all of which offer special health benefits.
According to the Institute of MedicineThe recommended intake for total fiber for adults 50 years and younger is set at 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women, while for men and women older than 50, it is 30 and 21 grams per day, respectively, due to decreased food consumption.
Look at the label when you buy breads, pasta and cereal. The labels should state, "100-percent whole grain" or "100-percent whole wheat." Many products have labels stating they are made with whole grains or contain whole grain, but are not 100-percent whole grain. These products usually contain much more refined flour and usually don't have any more fiber than regular white breads and pastas. It's fine to eat them (they'll help your taste buds make the transition from refined flours to whole grains), but they don't count as a full serving of whole grain. For example, one serving of whole wheat pasta that's made with 50 percent whole wheat flour counts as one serving from the bread and cereal group, but only one-half a serving of whole grain.
Most whole wheat products will be brown, while refined products are pale or white. The coloring in whole wheat flour comes from red-hued phenols (which are good for you). There is a type of wheat, called "white wheat," that's milder in flavor than regular wheat, so whole wheat white products offer the milder flavor of white flour with the goodness of whole grains.
These common grains are all considered whole grains when they still contain the bran, germ and endosperm:
- Corn, corn meal and popcorn
- Oats and oatmeal
- Brown rice
- Wild rice