September is National Whole Grains Month, a time to celebrate the nutrition that eating whole grains — over refined grains — has to offer.
But what exactly is a whole grain? A whole grain contains three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm (refined grains only contain the endosperm).
The bran and germ help keep your body healthy, your skin glowing and your hair shiny. Including whole grains as part of a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, constipation and some cancers.
Here are some examples of whole-grain foods: barley, quinoa, oats, brown rice, amaranth and teff, as well as whole grain pastas, breads and cereals.
When reading food labels, look for the words “whole grain” in the ingredient list. Don’t be fooled by colors. Being brown doesn’t make bread whole-wheat, and a white bread may not be made with just refined white flour.
Finding whole-grain bread takes some label-reading skills. A bread that’s labeled “whole wheat” must be made with 100% whole-wheat flour, which is guaranteed to have fiber and be a whole grain. However, bread labels that advertise “seven grain” or “multigrain” are not necessarily whole-grain products.
Check the ingredients to make sure whole-wheat flour or some other grain is listed as the first ingredient. Choose loaves made mostly with whole-wheat or another whole-grain flour.
While you may know adding more whole grains to family meals is a smart move, getting your family to suddenly love brown rice over white rice can be challenging. Start by partnering whole grains with vegetables, like a stir-fry over brown rice or a whole-wheat pita stuffed with chicken salad. You can add oatmeal to a meatloaf or toss cooked quinoa into a salad.
Here are some ideas to get started from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
» Start with breakfast. Choose a fiber-rich, whole-grain breakfast cereal, oatmeal or whole-wheat toast.
» Choose whole grains over refined items when selecting breads, buns, bagels, tortillas, pastas and other grain products.
» Experiment with different grains such as buckwheat, bulgur, millet, quinoa, sorghum, whole rye or barley. To save time, cook extra bulgur or barley and freeze half to heat and serve later as a quick side dish.
» Enjoy whole grains as a snack, like popcorn or whole-wheat or rye crackers.
Q: What are overnight oats?
HAS: Overnight oats are a no-cook way to make oatmeal. Rather than cooking oatmeal on the stove or in the microwave, you can combine oats with a milk of your choice and allow it to soak and soften for at least two hours — or overnight.
Add your choice of toppings: apples, applesauce, yogurt, chia seeds, cinnamon, vanilla, blueberries, walnuts or pecans, powdered peanut butter and bananas — whatever sounds good.
Make three or four servings at a time to have breakfast ready for a few days.
Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal
Here’s a make-ahead, whole-grain recipe for those busy school days. It’s from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
» 1½ cups fat-free milk or soy milk
» ½ cup packed brown sugar
» ½ cup egg substitute or egg whites
» 1 tablespoon melted trans-fat-free margarine
» ½ teaspoon cinnamon
» 2 cups rolled oats (not instant)
» 1 teaspoon baking powder
» 1½ cups chopped apples
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl mix the milk, brown sugar, egg substitute or egg whites, margarine and cinnamon. In a larger bowl, combine the oats and the baking powder.
For the wet mixture into the bowl with the oats; add the apples and stir to combine. Spoon the mixture into an 8-by-8-inch pan coated with cooking spray and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until top is firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Serves 9; serving size: 1 square
Per serving: 160 calories; 4 grams protein; 30 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fat; 3 grams fiber; 18 grams of sugar; 80 milligrams sodium
— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at [email protected]or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.