Add Whole Grains

The fourth challenge is to eat three more servings of whole grains each day. We clarify the definitions and decode the labels so you will know exactly what you're eating and, well, approximately how much. Is "brown" bread whole-grain? Well, sometimes...

What Are Whole Grains? Take the Whole-Grains Challenge

April's Goal: Eat three more servings of whole grains each day

Whole Grain English Muffin

Photo: Randy Mayor

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A whole grain is a simple food, the soul of the health food ideal. There’s good reason to eat whole grains: The fiber and nutrients are associated with reduced risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, and offer the added perk of better weight maintenance. Problem is, getting whole grains into a modern diet isn’t simple at all. The whole-grain landscape is confusing. There is no ­simple standard for a serving. Food ­labels are unreliable. Definitions are tricky. The goal this month is to take a simple approach to servings, decode the labels, and then get three more servings of whole grains into your diet each day, without a lot of fuss: It can be as simple as having a serving at breakfast, lunch, and snack time or dinner.

Here’s what you need to know. A grain is a seed, having three parts: a vitamin- and oil-rich germ (the part that sprouts); a starchy coating that feeds the germ; and a layer of ­antioxidant-rich, high-fiber bran that protects this nutritious package. ­Refined grains usually consist of only one part of the seed: When wheat, for example, is refined, the bran is ­removed, as is the perishable germ, leaving a shelf-stable, nutrient-stripped starchy powder known as white flour. Lots of carbs in that, and beautiful for baking, but much goodness is missing. Whole grains, by contrast, have all three parts.

A bowl of cooked brown rice or oatmeal is perhaps the simplest ­example of a whole-grain food—half a cup of either is the government’s definition of a serving, as is a half-cup of whole-grain pasta. Things get trickier with whole-grain products, though, because you have to ask how much whole grain is in the food.

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