Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on September 11, 2020
Good for Your Weight
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Why do people who eat more whole grains, like oatmeal, gain less weight than those who fill up on refined grains, like white rice? Whole grains keep food in your stomach longer, so you're less likely to fill up on junk foods. But a slender shape isn't the only reason to eat whole grains. Their texture and flavor can also wake up taste buds tired from a white-bread diet.
Smart Ways to Swap in Whole Grains
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It’s easy to get more whole grains in your diet. Serve brown or wild rice instead of white. Put turkey dogs on whole wheat buns. Make pancakes with oat or corn flour. Switch to whole wheat tortillas. Munch on popcorn instead of chips. Go slowly to let your body get used to more fiber, and drink lots of water. That way you're less likely to have gas or bloating.
Wake Up and Smell the Barley
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Here are three ways to serve warm whole grains for breakfast:
Drizzle honey on cooked barley and sprinkle with nuts and dried fruit.
Top chewy farro with bananas, walnuts, and dried cranberries.
Stir chopped apple, cinnamon, brown sugar, and raisins into partly cooked old-fashioned oatmeal. Continue cooking until the apple is tender. Top with toasted nuts.
A Whole Wheat Pasta Taste Test
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When TV chefs praise the taste of whole-grain pasta, you know it must be good. The best new types are nutty and firm, not gluey like older ones. Dress them with spicy tomato sauce or hearty spinach-and-walnut pesto. Some "super" pastas have extras like flaxseed or legume powder, which can ruin the taste. Look for durum, spelt, or farro wheat pasta.
Quinoa: Trendy and Tasty
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This Peruvian seed has gone mainstream. It has a mild flavor, fills in nicely for rice, and is easy to cook in about 15 minutes.
Match quinoa's mild flavor with vegetables or sweet chunks of fruit. Or try tossing it in a salad with peppers, corn, and black beans. You can mix it into patties with egg, onion, and grated cheese instead of ground beef.
Whole Grains Can Be Gluten-Free
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If you need to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, you can still eat whole grains. Look for quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth instead. Even if you don't have gluten problems, try a variety of whole grains, such as brown rice, wild rice, bulgur wheat, oatmeal, and spelt. Each offers different nutrients.
Whole-Grain Label Clues
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If a bread is brown, does it mean it's made from whole grains? Not always. Check the nutrition label, even if the package front looks promising. The first ingredient should be a whole grain. Look for:
Whole wheat or 100% whole wheat
Know the Buzzwords
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Watch out for refined grains, which can go by names like "unbleached enriched wheat flour," "multigrain," "wheat flour," or "100% wheat." Multigrain means more than one type of grain, and all of them may be refined. Check the back label for fiber -- 2.5 grams or more per serving. That will help you avoid foods that don't live up to a whole-grain promise.
How Much Whole Grain Do You Need?
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Try this easy trick to get enough: Fill one-quarter of your plate at each meal with grains, and make at least half of that whole grains.
If you're counting servings, you'll need about 6 to 8 grain servings a day depending on your age and how active you are. Again, half should be whole grains. What counts? One slice of whole wheat bread, 1/2 cup of cooked pasta or oatmeal, or 3 cups of popped popcorn.
What Makes Whole Grains So Good?
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A whole grain is a plant seed with three layers. When it is refined, the outside and the inside are stripped away, along with most of the nutrients and fiber. The starchy middle remains, and you get white rice or white flour -- and lighter breads, pastries, and pastas. "Enriching" adds back some nutrients, but you get more overall nutrition when you eat the grain "whole."
A Good Way to Boost Fiber
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Fiber has a long list of health benefits, including feeling full longer after a meal, helping you lose weight, and keeping your digestion “regular.” Many Americans don't get enough fiber. Most whole grains are packed with fiber.
Whole Grains Help Keep You Strong
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Fiber isn’t the whole story when it comes to whole grains. They've also got other nutrients, including B vitamins, which give you energy. They're rich in folate, which help build red blood vessels. They're packed with minerals like magnesium and selenium, which help your body make bone and strengthen your immune system. Whole grains also have natural plant nutrients that can fight disease.