Getting to the Heart of a Healthful Diet: Grain Products
The American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of grain products, including whole grains. Grains should make up the base of your diet, aim for six or more servings per day.
Grain products, such as bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal, cereal, and tortillas, are generally low in fat and provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and some phytochemicals. Most of the foods we eat are refined grains, for example white bread, white rice, pasta, pretzels, and many others. Refined grains do not contain as many nutrients as whole grains.
A whole grain is the entire edible portion of a grain. A whole grain includes three parts, each with a valuable store of nutrients:
- Bran—contains large amounts of B vitamins, minerals, and fiber
- Endosperm—houses most of the protein and carbohydrate and small amounts of vitamins and minerals
- Germ—contains B vitamins, minerals, and some protein
White flour, which is the base of many of our foods, is made by refining whole grains. During the refining process, most or all of the bran and germ are removed. White flour that has been enriched has certain nutrients added to it: iron and some B vitamins (including folate). However, many other nutrients are lost, these include:
Whole grains are a healthier choice because the ingredients they contain can help lower the risk for heart disease. Soluble fiber (found in oats and barley) can lower cholesterol levels. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, are believed to help prevent atherosclerosis and lower the risk for coronary artery disease.
It's easy to eat six grain servings per day. One serving is equal to:
- 1 cup flaked cereal
- 1/2 cup of cooked oatmeal, grits, or cream-of-wheat cereal
- 1/4 cup nugget or bud-type cereal
- 3 tablespoons wheat germ
- 1 pancake or waffle, 4 inch diameter
- 1/2 English muffin, hamburger roll, pita, or frozen bagel (those from bagel shops can be up to four servings.)
- 1 slice of bread or dinner roll
- 1 tortilla, 6 inch diameter
- 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, or barley
- 1/2 cup quinoa, bulgur, millet, or other whole grain
- 1/2 cup pretzels
- 3-4 small crackers
Finding the Whole Grain
The trickiest part about eating whole grains is figuring out which grains truly are whole. To do this, check the ingredient label. The product is a whole grain if the first ingredient is whole wheat or oatmeal. Don't be fooled by brown breads, some are dyed to be that color. Also, a food label that reads wheat bagel, stoned wheat, or seven grain is not necessarily whole grain.
The following are whole grains:
- Whole wheat
- Brown rice
Some cold breakfast cereals, such as:
- Granola or muesli
- Raisin bran
- Shredded wheat
- Wheat germ
Be aware. Many of these cereals contain large amounts of sugar, honey, or fructose corn syrup. These types of sugars add calories without any food value or health benefit. Whenever possible choose cereal products without added sugars.
Some hot breakfast cereals, for example:
- Oat bran
- Quaker multigrain
- Roman Meal
Some crackers, for example:
- Wheat Thins
American Dietetic Association
Food and Nutrition
United States Department of Agriculture
Dietitians of Canada
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition
Last reviewed January 2007 by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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