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Whole Grains 101 continued...

Whole grains are also a low-fat source of complex carbohydrates, which are an important fuel for the body. According to the USDA, about 55% of your total caloric intake should come from carbohydrates, the majority of which should be complex. That's six to 11 servings of grains a day, three of which should be whole grains, advises the USDA. (Active men and teenage boys are advised to consume the upper limit of that range.) What's a serving? One slice of bread; 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta; 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal; 1/2 bun, bagel, or English muffin; one small roll, biscuit, or muffin; or three to four small or two large crackers.

Besides providing fuel, whole grains contain substantial amounts of fiber. One cup of oatmeal, for example, contains 8 grams of fiber, which is about 30% of the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) recommendation of 20 to 35 grams per day. The roughage helps you maintain proper bowel function. What's more, it may help you to feel full on fewer calories.

Consider that according to a USDA study published in The Journal of Nutrition in April 1997, participants who consumed 18 to 36 grams of fiber a day absorbed 130 fewer daily calories. That adds up to a potential 13-pound weight loss over a year's time. To boost their fiber intake, subjects made simple switches, such as having whole-wheat instead of white bread, says David J. Baer, PhD, a research physiologist with the USDA and the study's lead researcher.

Getting the Grains

To get more whole grains into your diet, choose unprocessed foods that have been tampered with as little as possible, says Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who frequently lectures on whole grains.

Start by eating cereals like oatmeal for breakfast or as a snack, Slavin says. Opt for whole-grain bread instead of white whenever possible -- from your morning toast to your noontime deli sandwich to your late-evening snack.

Choose soups containing whole grains, such as barley or brown rice, instead of chicken noodle. Also, try whole-wheat instead of regular white-flour pasta and fortify more meals with whole-grain side dishes, such as brown rice or corn. If you're feeling especially adventurous, seek out recipes that call for exotic items such as quinoa, a tiny, bead-shaped grain native to South America that takes half the cooking time of rice. Bulgur (wheat kernels), a Middle Eastern staple, is another nutritious whole grain -- and it's delicious in pilaf and salads. Both quinoa and bulgur are available at many health food stores. Finally, when you feel like a snack, pick low-fat whole-wheat crackers or air-popped popcorn.

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