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6 suggestions for adding whole grains to your diet

Although they may seem unfamiliar, these nutritious foods are as easy to cook and use as white rice.

Image: Shalith/Thinkstock

Refined carbohydrates are out; whole grains are in. That’s one of the messages from the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It makes a lot of sense, given that diets rich in whole grains are linked with a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and certain cancers.

“All the grains we eat now started as whole grains, but we’ve stripped them down and lost some of the nutrition,” says Stacey Nelson, manager of clinical nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

What’s a whole grain, anyway?

Whole-grain kernels are essentially plant seeds that have been removed from their inedible husks. Whole grains include unrefined versions of familiar foods like wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, and rye. Whole grains have 100% of each of the grain’s three basic parts:

1. Endosperm. The largest part of the grain, the endosperm provides nourishment for the plant as it sprouts and grows. It is mostly carbohydrate and protein.

2. Germ. Essentially a developing plant embryo, the germ is rich in B vitamins and unsaturated fats, and has a little protein.

3. Bran. This multilayered “skin” of the grain provides not only fiber, but also antioxidants and vitamins.

Refining removes the bran and germ—and most of the fiber and fat along with them—and leaves the starchy endosperm.

Getting back to whole grains

Whole grains may take a little getting used to, especially if you’re accustomed to fluffy white rice and instant oatmeal. But they can reward you with more complex flavor, nuttier texture, and a more interesting plate. The following may help you get started:

1. Start with the familiar. Switch to a whole-grain version of something you already eat. For example, try brown or wild rice instead of white rice, or whole-grain pasta. Replace white bread with whole-grain bread for sandwiches and toast.

2. Go gradually. The new guidelines suggest making small changes to your diet, and grains are the ideal place to begin. Add them a little at a time. For example, try mixing some brown rice into your white rice or replacing half your white pasta with whole-grain pasta. Mix oats into a meatloaf or even into chocolate chip cookies. Substitute whole-grain cereals for quick-cooking varieties.

3. Take shortcuts. Since whole grains take longer to cook, you can speed the process by soaking them first. (Don’t try this with pasta, though!) Using a microwave instead of the stovetop can also lop minutes off cooking time.

4. Rethink snacks. Surprise! Popcorn is a whole grain, too. It’s a great substitute for chips and pretzels. If you want an occasional cracker, there is an increasing array of whole-grain varieties.

5. Be adventurous. Try some new grains or some you might have forgotten about. Quinoa—in three colors—is now easy to find, and the so-called “ancient grains”—including amaranth, bulgur, farro, Kamut, millet, spelt, sorghum, and teff—are also becoming familiar on grocery shelves and in restaurants.

6. Don’t be fooled. When you’re buying packaged baked goods or cereals, look for “whole grain” on the label. In the United States, only products in which all the grains are whole and that have at least 8 grams of one or more whole grains can legally bear that term. “Multigrain” means only that the product is made from more than one grain, not that those grains are whole. And the term “all natural” has no meaning, according to the FDA. Because ingredients are listed in order of amount, make sure that whole grains are at the top of the list and that the list is relatively short.

Grains for going gluten-free

Whole grains present a great alternative for people who have celiac disease or who are intolerant to gluten—a protein found in wheat, bar-ley, rye, and some other grains. Although wheat products dominate grocery shelves, it’s getting easier to find gluten-free products made with other whole-grain flours. Still, distinguishing the gluten-rich from the gluten-free can be a challenge.

The following contain gluten:

  • barley

  • bulgur

  • durum

  • farro

  • Kamut

  • rye

  • semolina

  • spelt

  • triticale

  • wheat

The following grains are gluten-free:

  • amaranth

  • buckwheat

  • corn and popcorn

  • millet

  • quinoa

  • rice

  • sorghum

  • teff

Oats are naturally gluten-free, but they may pick up gluten if they are processed with wheat, barley, or rye. When buying oats, look for “gluten-free” on the label.

Why whole grains are so good for you

Whole grains have a relatively low glycemic index; their sugars are released into the bloodstream slowly and steadily. As a result, they don’t result in a significant spike in blood sugar levels, which is healthier for your body. The fiber content helps to lower bad cholesterol. These effects may account for a reduced risk of the following:

Inflammatory diseases. A report from the 38,000-participant Iowa Women’s Health Study found that com-pared with women who rarely or never ate whole-grain foods, those who had at least two or more servings a day were 30% less likely to die from an inflammation-related condition over 17 years.

Cardiovascular disease. In the Nurses’ Health Study I, which involved 75,000 women, those who ate two to three servings of whole-grain products each day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease over a 10-year period than women who ate less than one serving per week.

Diabetes. Among more than 160,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Studies I and II, those who averaged two to three servings of whole grains a day were 30% less likely to develop diabetes than those who rarely ate whole grains. In the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, which involved 94,000 women, eating two or more servings of whole grains a day was linked with a 40% reduction in diabetes risk.

Cognitive impairment. In a study of 923 Chicago retirees, eating at least three servings of whole grains a day was associated with a 53% reduction in the risk of developing dementia over five years.

Cooking whole grains

Since whole grains are often sold in bulk in natural-food stores, they may not come with cooking instructions. Don’t be daunted. If you’ve cooked rice, you won’t have a problem. Combine the dry grain and liquid in a pot with water or broth, bring it to a boil, then simmer until the liquid is absorbed.

Instructions for cooking whole grains

Grain (1 cup)


Simmer time (minutes) after bringing to boil


2 cups

15 to 20


3 cups

45 to 60


2 cups



2 cups

10 to 12

Cornmeal (polenta)

4 cups

25 to 30


2½ cups

25 to 40

Kamut wheat*

4 cups

45 to 60


2½ cups

25 to 35

Oats, steel-cut

4 cups


Pasta, whole-grain

6 cups

8 to 12


2 cups

12 to 15

Rice, brown

2½ cups

25 to 45


4 cups

45 to 60


4 cups

25 to 40

Spelt berries*

4 cups

45 to 60


3 cups


Wheat berries*

4 cups

45 to 60

Wild rice

3 cups

45 to 55

*Soak overnight before cooking.

Source: Whole Grains Council.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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