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MyPlate Food Groups: Grains

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 recipes featuring whole grains!

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 & refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel – the bran (full of fiber & B vitamins), germ (rich in healthy oils & other nutrients), & the starchy endosperm. Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, whole grain tortillas & brown rice. 

Refined grains have gone through a process that removes the bran & germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm. This process also removes dietary fiber, iron & many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grains are white flour, white bread & 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 & 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. These carbohydrates serve as the body’s main source of fuel & 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 & may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity & type 2 diabetes. Fiber-containing foods also support healthy digestion & provide a feeling of fullness, which may help with weight management. 
  • Provide Folate → Folate is a 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 & 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, & 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 grainsAmount that counts as 1-oz equivalent of grains
Bagel1” mini bagel or ¼ of a large bagel
Bread1 regular slice
Crackers5 crackers
English muffin½ muffin
Oatmeal½ cup, cooked
Popcorn3 cups, popped
Rice and pasta½ cup, cooked
Tortillas1 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 & 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!

Avocado tuna salad sandwich
Avocado tuna salad sandwich

Swap fried rice for steamed brown rice in this Asian inspired dish! Sesame Ginger Beef is simple, healthy & sure to be a new family-favorite!

Sesame Ginger Beef
Sesame Ginger Beef

Our Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup is the perfect feel-good cold weather soup & includes whole-wheat pasta. Ready in under 30 minutes!

Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup
Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup

ONIE’s Italian Chicken Bruschetta is hearty & full of delicious Italian flavors!

Italian Chicken Bruschetta
Italian Chicken Bruschetta

Follow us as we continue our “MyPlate Food Groups” series. Comment below and  share some of your favorite ways to prepare whole grains!

References:

1. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/grains

2. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/grains/grains-nutrients-health

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