Easy ways to choose whole grains for health

Contact Susan Nitzke, nitzke@nutrisci.wisc.edu, 608-262-1692

Madison, Wis–Did you know that half of your grain intake each day should come from whole grains? The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans has long recommended making whole grains a significant portion of your diet.

“If you are one of the millions of Americans who fall far short of that goal, there are quick and easy ways to eat more whole grains on a daily basis,” says Susan Nitzke, Cooperative Extension specialist and Professor Emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The first step is to know a few basic terms. A whole grain food is made from the whole kernel of the wheat berry or other grain. That means the outer bran, the oily germ and the starchy endosperm are all present. In contrast, a refined grain uses only the endosperm part of the grain seed or kernel.

Nitzke says there are lots of nutritious and delicious whole grain choices in breakfast cereals. She suggests reading cereal labels and choosing cereals with a whole grain as the first item in the ingredients list. Most whole-grain ingredients have the word “whole” in the name, like “whole wheat” or “whole-grain corn.” Oatmeal and rolled oats are also whole grains.

When you are buying bread for sandwiches or toast, try different whole-grain varieties. “Get your family members involved in a taste test of a few different brands and pick the brands you will want to buy most often,” says Nitzke. She recommends doing this for all the grain products that frequently appear on your shopping list, such as tortillas, bagels, English muffins, pasta, noodles or crackers.

For a healthy whole-grain snack, popcorn fits the bill, especially if it’s made with little or no added salt and butter.

According to Nitzke, it is easy to be fooled by words that sound like they might be whole grain items on an ingredient label or product name. She says “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “100% wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “seven-grain,” or “bran” are usually not whole-grain products. She also points out that bread and other grain products may look brown due to molasses or food colors, so it is better to use the ingredient list rather than color as a guide when choosing whole grain foods.

For more information on eating whole grains, contact your local UW-Extension office (contact information available at http://www.uwex.edu/ces); the “Families, Food and Fitness” national eXtension website (http://www.extension.org/pages/58571/substitute-whole-grains-for-refined); or visit the “Choose MyPlate” website http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains-tips.html

To learn more about Cooperative Extension, which is celebrating 100 years of working for Wisconsin in 2012, visit http://www.uwex.edu/ces/

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