Why is "whole grain" important?

Your question is a good one, as the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has been encouraging people to eat more whole grains by using their slogan “Make Half Your Grains Whole”. Grains are divided into two groups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire kernel (the bran, germ, and endosperm), while refined grains have had many of these healthy parts removed. Whole grains are important parts of our diets for lots of reasons. Scientists feel that many compounds in whole grains (phytic acid, lectin, protease inhibitor) contribute to the low glycemic quality of whole grains. This is important for people with diabetes, as increased intake of whole grains helps them better manage blood sugar levels. Whole grains also contain many healthy vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and fiber…all of which work well together in helping to reduce incidence of disease.

It can be confusing to determine which products are whole vs. refined grain. I remind my patients that just because some breads are brown do not mean they are automatically whole grain. And, other words on the product’s label such as “seven grain” or “multigrain” can be misleading. These products are not necessarily “whole grain” either. If you see the “whole grain” stamp on a product, you know it contains just that. But, not all products have this stamp yet, so next look at the ingredient section. Any products with ingredients that say “whole__” [various grains] or “whole wheat”, “stone ground”, or brown rice are definitely healthy whole grain products. Once you have determined which products are whole grains, now figure out how to best fit them into your diet. You could start your day with a whole grain slice of toast or breakfast cereal. Mix together a healthy veggie-filled quinoa salad for lunch and enjoy whole wheat pasta topped with sautéed vegetables for dinner!

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