Do you think grains are healthy to eat? They are! But there is a right way, and a wrong way, to eat grains. Which are you doing?
Grains give us nourishment when we eat them.
In fact, eating grains is how we receive several specific nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate) and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).
And they taste good too.
But there is a wrong way to eat grains – and that wrong way is to eat only the refined or processed versions and neglect ‘whole’ grains.
Because, processed grains are typically much lower in nutrients, and much higher in added sugar, salt, and even fat. These additives can create ‘fake’ positives or reasons to eat them.
Grains Are Healthy – But Not When Eaten For These Reasons
- An energy surge – People think grains are healthy because they feel a burst of energy after eating them. But, the refined grains have been stripped of their natural sweeteners, and refined sugar(s) have been added. The extra sugar causes a surge of energy, but it will soon crash unless you eat more. This way of eating adds many empty calories into your diet and leads to feeling sluggish and tired after the sugar rush is over.
- Flavor – Some think grains are healthy because they taste good. But most of the grains they are eating are refined. Flavors are added during the processing -including sugar, salt, fat and artificial flavoring. Whole grains have a touch of natural sweetness to them.
- Comfort – The added sugar creates a feeling of satisfaction after eating refined grains. While the sentiment is relaxing initially, it quickly wears off and causes a quick drop in blood sugar which creates irritability, nervousness, and hunger.
- Cost-savings – People think grains are healthy because they are expensive. But the food companies create an illusion. Brand name cereal, crackers, and snack cakes, for example, may cost more than a generic version. However, most grains are very inexpensive to buy in their whole, or ready-to-cook form. Food that has added flavorings are more sought after and typically are priced a bit higher to cover the marketing.
- Time (fast) – No doubt about it. Refined grains that are in a package and ready to eat, or cooked when ordered at a fast food restaurant are quick and easy. But good healthy food takes time to prepare. Most food that is ready to eat when purchased is not as robust as food that requires preparation.
- Acceptable – Boy do I get this. If your kids eat it, you buy it. Offering healthier options frequently and consistently (and ceasing to purchase other variants) is a positive habit to form as a parent.
Grains Are Healthy – Whole vs. Refined
Whole grains provide your body with fiber which can help you feel full and may decrease constipation, reduce the risk of heart disease, and help with weight management.
Processed grains may not be easy to recognize. But they’re everywhere. So maybe it is easier to spot them if you learn what they are not.
Typically whole grains will come in bags or boxes (or even in self-serving bins) and will require cooking. Whole grains look closer to how it was when it was on the plant – a seed form.
Refined grains go through processing until they are only a fine, smooth powder-like substance. See a list of common whole grains and refined grains below. These are the grains to incorporate into your meal planning.
|Whole Grains||Refined Grains*|
|Brown rice||White rice|
|Whole wheat bread||White bread (biscuits, challah bread, breadcrumbs, English muffins, French bread, naan, pizza crust, white sandwich buns & rolls)|
|Oatmeal||Pancakes & waffles|
|Wild rice||Rice cakes, rice paper (spring roll wrappers)|
|Whole grain barley||Bagels|
|Whole wheat pasta||Pasta (noodles, spaghetti, macaroni), ramen noodles,|
|Whole wheat tortillas||Corn tortillas|
|Bulgur (cracked wheat)||Cakes, cookies, corn flakes, cornbread|
*Some of these grains can be made with whole grains. Check the ingredient list to see if ‘whole grain,’ ‘whole wheat,’ or ‘whole corn’ is the first or second item on the list to confirm it is a whole grain product.
Grains Are Healthy – When Eaten in A Better Way
The amount of grains you should be eating depends on your age, sex, and physical activity level. (See chart here). Most Americans consume plenty of grains in their diet. The problem is that most of them are refined.
Make a goal to consume at least 50% of your grains as whole grains.
If you are eating less than this now, start to add whole grains into your diet. An easy way – bring popcorn into your family’s diet at snack time or packed in a lunch.
Other quick wins are to switch to whole grain bread and brown rice, eat a bowl of oatmeal, or whole grain pasta (pasta & bread are now made with multiple grains so you can choose wheat or gluten-free).
Eventually, try bringing cooked grains into your diet. Offer them as sides (often recipes call grain sides ‘salads’) until you have at least 50% of your grain intake as whole grain.
In closing, yes, grains are healthy. I encourage you to make a goal is to have 50% of your grain intake be from whole grains. You likely won’t meet this goal overnight! But, bringing whole grains like popcorn, oatmeal, and brown rice into your family menu as snacks and side dishes will help you get there. Whatever you choose to do first, offer it frequently and consistently. Soon you will find that whole grains are healthy and delicious too!