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Eating more whole grains is an easy way to add a layer of "health insurance" to your life. Whole grains are packed with nutrients including protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium). A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer. Whole-grain diets also improve bowel health by helping to maintain regular bowel movements and promote growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.

Yet only 10% of Americans consume the recommended minimum of three servings a day.

Why? For one thing, it's not always easy to tell just which foods are whole grain. Scan the bread, cereal or snack aisle, and virtually every package touts its whole-grain goodness. But not all of them actually are whole grain. Terms like "multigrain," "100% wheat," "organic," "pumpernickel," "bran," and "stone ground" may sound healthy, but none actually indicates the product is whole grain.

Further, many Americans have the perception that whole grains just don't taste good, or that it's difficult to work them into their daily diets.

To help you start reaping the benefits of a diet rich in whole grains, WebMD got the skinny on how to tell which foods are made of whole grains, along with suggestions on how to fit the recommended servings into your healthy eating plan.

Know Your Whole Grains

A whole grain contains all edible parts of the grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. The whole grain may be used intact or recombined, as long as all components are present in natural proportions. To recognize whole grains, keep this list handy when you go to the grocery store and choose any of the following grains:

  • Whole-grain corn
  • Whole oats/oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice
  • Whole rye
  • Whole-grain barley
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Triticale
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum
  • 100% whole wheat flour

But what about when you're buying processed products, such as a loaf of bread? You probably know to avoid products made of "refined" wheat. But did you know that some manufacturers strip the outer layer of bran off the whole kernel of wheat, use the refined wheat flour, add in molasses to color it brown, and call it "100% wheat" bread? That's true -- but it is not a whole grain.

That's why it's important to check the ingredient list for the word "whole" preceding the grain (such as "whole wheat flour"). Ideally, the whole grain will be the first ingredient in the list, indicating that the product contains more whole grain than any other ingredient.

One way to find whole grains is to look for the FDA-approved health claim that reads, "Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers." This is found on whole-grain products that contain at least 51% whole grain ingredients (by weight) and are also low in fat. 

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