Research suggests that increasing whole grain consumption could lead to a longer life and lower risks for cardiovascular disease and cancer. 
Credit: Photo: Iain Bagwell

Two recently released major health studies have reached the same conclusion: Consuming whole grains appears to help lower the risk for premature death. 

The first analysis, published in Circulation, found that participants who ate three or more servings per day of whole grains had a 20 percent reduced risk of premature death when compared to those who ate less or no whole grains. This conclusion was reached through the research team's analysis of 14 published studies, which altogether studied 800,000 people in multiple countries over a nearly 40-year span.

Credit: Photo: Randy Mayor

The second study, published in BMJ, also analyzed data from 45 studies. Calculations from the study concluded that a diet including 90 grams of whole grains a day reduced the risk for early mortality by 17 percent when compared to a diet that contained no whole grains. 

Whole grains, by definition, have their bran and germ intact. Both are removed during the process of creating refined grains. Grains that are refined lose around 25 percent of their protein along with several vitamins. (Some of these vitamins are added back at the end of the process.) Overall, whole grains have a higher protein and fiber content while being naturally vitamin-rich.

The general portion size for a serving of whole grains is about half a cup. While it can be tricky to figure out exactly what is whole grain, and labels are very misleading, try to keep an eye out for the word "whole" before an ingredient as the major clue to its origins. The easiest way to make sure you're getting whole grains is to avoid pre-made products and cook your own at home.

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

So how can you get more whole grains in your diet?

Eat a whole grain at every meal. The USDA currently recommends in their Dietary Guidelines for Americans to eat three servings of whole grains a day, which easily lines up with our three daily meals.

Keep it familiar. Your family might be anti whole grains if it means all the food suddenly becomes new, so try to stick with their favorites. It can be as simple as switching out brown rice for white in your stand-by chicken casserole or adding a bit of bulgur to your meatballs or meatloaf.

Plan out a whole grains-based menu. For example, breakfast could be Chocolate Buckwheat Waffles, Steel-Cut Oats Jambalaya for lunch, and finish up with a Whole Grains Veggie Burrito Bowl for dinner.

Don't just serve them one way. Try mixing up the flours you use for baked goods. Switch out your breakfast cereal with whole-grain granola. Or bake or fry grains until crunchy, and sprinkle atop soups and salads for extra texture.

Make a batch. Over the weekend (or whenever you have a chunk of free time) cook up a batch of a whole grains. If you have a pot of wheat berries already cooked and waiting, you'll be so much more likely to sprinkle it on salads or choose to make a whole grain pilaf for dinner.