Following an eating plan that centers around whole-grain foods versus refined grains can help you reduce belly fat and other health risks. See Eat Your Way to a Trimmer Waist. But shopping for whole grains can be confusing with all the varying descriptors. So here’s a guide to help you decipher what’s whole grain and what’s not.
To qualify as a whole grain, 100% of the original kernel – all of the bran, germ, and endosperm – must be present. All grains start out whole, but during the refining process, the bran and germ are removed. As a general rule, look for the key word “whole”, such as “whole grain”, “100% whole grain”, or “whole wheat” when shopping for a whole-grain product and see that it’s listed as the first ingredient on the food label.
Watch for These Words
Beware of the following product ingredient descriptions as they MAY NOT be whole grain:
- Wheat flour
- Durum wheat
- Organic flour
- Multigrain – May be a mix of whole grains or several refined grains or a mix of both. Healthy-sounding names like “nine-grain” bread does not necessarily mean that it’s whole grain.
These words NEVER describe a whole grain:
- Enriched flour
- Degerminated (on corn meal)
- Wheat germ
Don’t judge a food by its color. Just because a bread, for example, is brown and contains the word “wheat” in the name, does not mean it’s a whole grain.
Always Whole Grain
UPDATE: Put the following on your shopping list and look for them on your food labels. These grains are invariably whole grain without being preceded by the word “whole”:
- Cracked wheat
- Popcorn (white, yellow, red, or black)
- Oats, oatmeal – Including steel-cut oats, old-fashioned oats. “Quick or instant oats” are pre-cooked, dried, and then rolled, and pressed. They contain less fiber than their steel-cut and old-fashioned counterparts and are often sweetened.
- Sorghum (milo)
- Rice (brown, wild, red, or black rice)
When to Look for “Whole”
Beware… just because you’re eating rye bread instead of white doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. For the following, you need to look for the word “whole” to be sure you’re getting a whole grain.
- Barley – “whole barley”, “hulled barley” or “hull-less barley”
- Corn – “whole corn” (avoid “degerminated”)
- Cornmeal – “whole corn” or “whole grain corn” (avoid “degermed corn”)
- Rye – “whole rye” or “rye berries”
- Spelt – “whole spelt”
- Wheat – “whole wheat”
Fiber Content in Whole Grains
All whole grains are not created equal. That is, fiber content varies widely. For example:
- Whole barley (17.3% fiber): 2.8 g fiber per 16 grams (about 1.5 tablespoons)
- Brown rice (3.5% fiber): 0.6 g fiber per 16 grams
So, just because a food isn’t high in fiber doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not whole grain.
The Five to One Fiber Rule – How to Shop for a Whole Grain Product
When shopping for grain products, such as bread, crackers and cereals, compare the grams of carbohydrates to fiber. The ratio of carbohydrates to fiber should be 5 to 1 or less. For example, a slice of Food for Life® Flax Sprouted Whole Grain Bread contains 14 grams of carbohydrate and 4 grams of dietary fiber (a ratio of 3.5 to 1). Great choice!
Now compare a slice of their organic white bread, Dave’s Killer Bread® White Done Right, which contains 21 grams of carbohydrate and only 2 grams of dietary fiber. This bread has a ratio of 10.5 grams of carbs to 1 gram of fiber. It’s far beyond the 5:1 ratio, so the white bread gets a thumbs down. It’s definitely does not meet not a good choice as a hearty whole grain food product.
The Benefits of Being Whole
Ever since your doctor told you to start eating more fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (beans, split peas, chick peas, and lentils), you switched to eating “whole wheat bread”. And you pat yourself on the back for trading in your white Wonder for 21 grains. But do you really know how healthy and whole it really is?
There is accumulating evidence that eating more dietary fiber reduces your risk for:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Certain cancers
- Weight gain
- Diverticular disease
- Functional constipation
According to the American Journal of Medicine, as fiber intake goes up, the risk of metabolic syndrome goes down resulting in less inflammation and a drop in obesity risk. It was concluded that greater dietary fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease. For every additional 7 grams of fiber consumed, heart disease risk decreased by 9%.
Seven grams of fiber does not equate to that much food. You can get 7 gm through a serving of whole grains plus beans or lentils (e.g., rice and beans), or a few servings of fruits and vegetables.
UPDATE: How Dietary Fiber Benefits Your Heart
The health benefits of dietary fiber include:
- Helps get rid of excess bile (reduces LDL “bad” cholesterol)
- Feeds our “good” bacteria
- Changes our gut hormones
- Helps sweep away unhealthy fats before they clog arteries
- Limits the amount of time toxins from the environment, BPA, mercury, and pesticides from the foods lurk in your body.
These effects collectively help control your cholesterol, body weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation which all reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Karen’s Fit Tip: As you can see, eating whole grains is not limited to just whole wheat, oatmeal and brown rice. Be adventurous and try something different every week!