This month, as part of our MyPlate Food Groups series, we talk all about GRAINS. Read more to learn about what foods are included in the grains group, the importance of grains in our diets, and how many grain foods we need per day. Don’t forget to check out a few of our favorite whole-grain food recipes.
What are grains?1
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Grains are divided into 2 different groups, whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel – the bran (full of fiber and B vitamins), germ (rich in healthy oils and other nutrients), and the starchy endosperm. Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, grits, whole cornmeal, whole wheat pasta, whole grain tortillas and brown rice.
Refined grains have gone through a process that removes the bran and germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm. This process also removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grains are white flour, white bread and white rice.
To be sure a product is made with whole grains, read the ingredient list. Look for items with the first ingredient listed as 100% whole wheat, whole wheat or whole grain.
Why do we need grains?2
Eating grains, especially whole grains, provides fuel and many health benefits for our bodies. Some benefits of consuming whole grains as part of a healthy diet include:
- Provide Energy → grains break down into carbohydrates during digestion, providing 4 calories per gram. These carbohydrates serve as the body’s main source of fuel and are the preferred energy source of many important organs, including the brain.
- Provide Dietary Fiber → studies have shown that dietary fiber may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Fiber-containing foods also support healthy digestion and provide a feeling of fullness, which may help with weight management.
- Provide B Vitamins → Thiamin, Riboflavin and Niacin help the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates. They are also essential for a healthy nervous system.
- Provide Folate → Folate is another B vitamin that helps the body form red blood cells. It also helps prevent neural tube defects when consumed as part of an overall healthy diet before and during pregnancy.
How many grain foods do I need per day?1
The amount of grain foods you need per day depends on things such as age, sex, and level of physical activity. The recommended amount of grains needed per day can vary from 3-ounce equivalents for children to 8-ounce equivalents for adults each day, more if you are physically active.
To get a better idea of how many ounces of grains you need per day, calculate your MyPlate Plan here!
The table below shows food items that count as 1-ounce equivalents of grains:
|Grain foods*Try to make at least ½ grains whole grains||Amount that counts as 1-oz equivalent of grains|
|Bagel||1” mini bagel or ¼ of a large bagel|
|Bread||1 regular slice|
|English muffin||½ muffin|
|Oatmeal||½ cup, cooked|
|Popcorn||3 cups, popped|
|Rice and pasta||½ cup, cooked|
|Tortillas||1 small flour OR 1 corn tortilla (6” diameter)|
Most Americans eat enough grains, but few are whole grains. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least ½ of our grains be whole grains. Here are a few tips to add more whole grains to your meals and snacks:
- Make simple changes. Instead of buying white bread, pasta or rice, try 100% whole wheat bread, pasta or brown rice.
- Try new grains. Find a grain that you have never tried before. Whole grains that you may want to try are quinoa, brown or wild rice.
- Substitute whole wheat flour in baking. When the recipe calls for flour, try using at least ½ whole wheat flour in the recipe.
- Try combining a whole grain with a protein or dairy food item for a snack, this will help fuel your body until the next meal.
Here are a few recipes that make adding whole grains easier:
Get 2-ounce servings of whole wheat bread with an avocado tuna salad sandwich!
Give quinoa a try with this Moroccan apricot chicken bowl!
ONIE’s Beef Pasta Bolognese is hearty, delicious and perfect for the cold weather.
Follow us as we continue our “MyPlate Food Groups” series. Next month, we will talk all about Fruits and Vegetables. Let us know if you have any questions and don’t forget to share some of your favorite healthy recipes!