Read full article By Kelly Toups @ USNews Photo Credit: Getty Images
EVEN IF YOU DON’T already eat whole grains, you’ve probably heard about them. But, despite all the talk about whole grains, there’s a lot of confusion out there about what they are and why they’re an essential part of a well-balanced diet.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of the grains adults eat should be whole grains. Yet most people don’t get enough of this important whole food.
An important source of fiber, essential minerals and other nutrients, whole grains in general are a food group associated with lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases. The Oldways Health Studies Database is a great resource for learning more about the connection between whole grain intake and reduced risk of disease.
Just as it’s important to eat different types of fruits and vegetables, it’s good to eat a variety of whole grains. Each whole grain has a slightly different nutritional profile, and you receive the most benefit when you eat a diverse mix.
Read on to understand what whole grains are, know what to look for when you’re buying whole grains and discover whole grains that are new to you.
What Is a Whole Grain?
A whole grain is an edible kernel with three parts:
1) The bran is the outside layer of the kernel. It contains antioxidants, B vitamins and ﬁber.
2) The endosperm is the largest part of the kernel and is the middle layer. It’s made up of starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
3) The germ is the inner-most layer. The germ is the section which has the potential to sprout into a new plant. It contains some protein, minerals, healthy fats and many B vitamins.
The key to a whole grain is that it includes all three parts. A grain that does not include all three is a refined grain, such as white flour or white rice.
Whole grains vary in size, shape and flavor. Examples are whole wheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat. You can eat them on their own – like a bowl of oatmeal – or they might be an ingredient like oat flour (aka ground oats) that you use in cooking or baking. Along with produce, whole grain foods make up the foundation of the Oldways Diet Pyramids, which are handy visual guides for eating nutritionally balanced diets like the Mediterranean Diet.