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Whole Grains for Health

Eat more whole grains, say experts. Find out how they keep you in optimal health.
Whole grains have always been considered as a healthy source of fiber, but now experts are discovering more and more health benefits that whole grain foods have to offer. Learn why they're the best grains to eat and how you can get more whole grains in your diet.

What are whole grains?

Whole grains retain all three parts of the grain -- including the fibre-rich outer shell (bran), energy-rich endosperm, and the nutrient-packed germ -- which are rich in vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, and have been found to possess many disease-fighting properties.

When whole grains are processed to make refined grains (such as white flour), the bran and germ are removed in the process, which depletes it of practically all of the fiber and nutrients.

Health benefits of whole grains

Research shows that women who eat the recommended three daily servings (or 48 grams) of whole grains are up to 36 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes than those who eat about one serving a day. It is believed that the fiber in whole grains prevents plaque buildup in the arteries, thus protecting against heart disease and stroke. Whole grains are also digested more slowly than refined grains, so the blood sugar levels remain steady, which helps protect against diabetes.

Upping your whole grain consumption also appears to aid in weight loss: Another study found women who included more whole grains in their diet gained less weight over a ten-year period compared to those who ate more refined grains. Experts attribute this to the high fiber content of whole grains, which makes a meal feel more filling and helps when you're cutting back on calories. Plus, high-fiber foods tend to require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you're full, so you're less likely to overeat.

Choosing whole grain products

Buying whole-grain foods can get a little tricky, because there are so many misleading descriptions: Often, products that claim to be "multigrain", "made with whole wheat", "enriched" or "100% wheat" actually contain only insignificant amounts of whole grains, if at all.

The clearer way to determine a product's whole grain content is to check its ingredients list and look out for the type of grain ingredients used: Be sure the label describes the grain ingredients as "whole" -- for example, "whole wheat" -- and preferably should be listed as the first ingredient. If it's listed second, the entire product may only contain anywhere between 1 percent to 49 percent whole grain.

Whole grain foods

Eat less of the refined grains (bagels, low-fiber cereals, noodles, pasta, white bread, white rice) and opt for these whole grain foods:

  • 100% whole-grain breads that include ingredients like whole-wheat flour, stone-ground whole-wheat, oats, oat bran, cracked wheat, whole rye, and flaxseeds. Look for at least 2 grams of fiber per 1-ounce serving.
  • Whole-wheat cereals
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Chapati (a whole-wheat Indian flatbread)
  • Whole-wheat tortillas
  • Whole-wheat pita bread
  • Air-popped or light microwave popcorn
  • 100% whole-grain crackers
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