Whole Grains Help Health

Posted: 6/14/2012

Posted June 14, 2012

We're munching popcorn and crunching granola bars. But when it comes to whole grains, we could use extra helpings.

"Most people don't get one serving of whole grains in a day, and we need three," said Dr. Keith Ayoob, a nationally known nutritionist and author. "Whole grains are one of the things that's generally lacking in most people's diet."

March is National Nutrition Month, putting what we eat in sharper focus. Whole grains in particular have become an easy fix for many dietary downfalls.

And surprise! They can taste pretty good, too.

"Whole grains used to be something you knew was good for you, but you didn't like it," said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the Whole Grains Council. "Now, more and more people are saying they like the taste of whole grains. You can have good taste and good nutrition."

Why the emphasis on whole grains?

Well, they're a perfect fuel food. They offer vitamins and minerals along with carbohydrates and proteins. They're also great for weight management because they make us feel fuller, so we eat less.

They pack a healthy punch, too. According to the American Society for Nutrition, eating at least three servings of whole grains a day can reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, cancer, high blood pressure, gum disease and tooth loss.

Adding that extra bran and germ to our refined-flour taste buds keeps getting easier. Manufacturers have introduced hundreds of new or reformulated whole-grain products, using familiar whole wheat, oats and brown rice as well as more unusual grains such as quinoa and amaranth. With concern over childhood obesity, many of those new whole-grain products are targeted at children.

It represents a whole-grain explosion in supermarket aisles. The Whole Grains Council, which issues a "whole grain stamp" of approval for qualified products, has seen its program expand 20-fold. In 2000, 164 products qualified for the stamp, which certifies at least 8 grams of whole grain per serving. In 2011, the product list swelled to 3,378.

Technological innovations -- originally designed to take carbohydrates out of baked goods and grain products -- now allow manufacturers to reformulate recipes with more whole grains, Harriman said.

"It's rather remarkable," Harriman said. "Walk through the market's cracker aisle; there are dozens of whole-grain options now. The new pastas are much better, too. I tell people if they thought they didn't like a whole-grain product, try it again or try a different brand. They'll be surprised."

April 4 will be the first national "Whole Grains Sampling Day," with restaurants, supermarkets and manufacturers offering samples of new whole-grain products or whole-grain makeovers of familiar favorites.

"I'm a big fan of cereal," said Ayoob, a pediatric nutrition expert at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "I work with kids and breakfast is huge. Yet 40 percent of kids are not regular breakfast eaters. ...

Ayoob also likes cereal for adults, paired with fresh fruit and low-fat milk. He said, "If you can get an extra serving of whole grains in the morning, that puts you way ahead nutritionally."

As awareness about the benefits of whole grains increases, so does our appetite. According to the nonprofit Whole Grains Council, U.S. consumption of whole grains grew 20 percent between 2005 and 2008, the most recent data available.

Sales of natural foods and beverages with the Whole Grain stamp went up almost 10 percent last year, according to market researcher SPINS.

"People are already incorporating more whole grains into their diets than they realize," Harriman said. "Popcorn? It's whole grain. Oatmeal? Whole grain."

Yet we're still far below the new USDA dietary guidelines, that suggest half of all grains we consume be whole-grain rich. Right now, whole grains make up about 11 percent of our total grain consumption.

We will eat more whole grains, starting with our children. Under a federal mandate, schools are scrambling to add more whole grains to cafeteria menus. By this fall, half of all grains served in schools must be whole-grain rich. By fall 2014, every cafeteria grain serving has to meet that whole-grain requirement.

"As more and more kids get used to whole grains in schools, we'll see (overall consumption) increase rapidly," Harriman said. "They'll develop a taste for whole grains. Eating whole grains all the time will be normal. It won't seem weird at home." Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075.

©2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at www.sacbee.com

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