Healthiest Grains: What Are They and How to Get More in Your Diet?

Healthiest Grains: What Are They and How to Get More in Your Diet?

In the United States, only 12.3% of adults manage to meet the recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake. Surprisingly, when it comes to grains, Americans usually have no trouble meeting their daily quota. Grains play a significant role in our daily meals, from cereals and bagels in the morning to sandwiches at lunch, rice for dinner, and even popcorn during movie nights.

But while we may be consuming an adequate quantity of grains, the real concern lies in the quality. The U.S. Department of Agriculture strongly advises that a major part of our grain intake should come from whole grains rather than refined ones. Let’s explore the healthiest grains within the whole grain category.

What Are the Healthiest Grains?

Grains are essential sources of fiber, B vitamins, complex carbohydrates, and minerals like iron, magnesium, and selenium. These carbohydrates are vital because they provide a direct and readily available source of energy for your body, as explained by registered dietitian Chris Mohr.

While all whole grains offer these crucial nutrients, a few grains stand out as the healthiest options due to their high fiber content. Farro, oats, and quinoa are often considered the healthiest grains because of their fiber content.

“Fiber might not be the most glamorous nutrient to discuss, but it’s absolutely essential for good health,” says Mohr. Dietary fiber not only makes you feel full but also aids in digestion and helps prevent constipation. It’s worth noting that research presented at the 2021 American Society for Nutrition conference showed that fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. adults meet their daily fiber recommendations. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming 28 grams of fiber daily based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

These three grain options also provide a good dose of protein. A 100-gram serving of oats contains nearly 17 grams of protein and 10.6 grams of fiber. In comparison, a 100-gram serving of farro offers 15.4 grams of protein and 6.6 grams of fiber, while cooked quinoa has around 3 grams of fiber and 4.4 grams of protein. To put this in perspective, the same portion of white rice only contains about 2.7 grams of protein and a mere 0.4 grams of fiber.

However, while these three grains are excellent choices, Mohr suggests that it’s ideal to incorporate a variety of grains into your diet to ensure you get a diverse range of nutrients.

The USDA recommends that at least half of your daily grain intake should be whole grains because they are richer in vitamins and nutrients compared to refined grains. Mohr emphasizes that we don’t need to avoid refined grains but should opt for enriched versions. The refinement process gives grains a finer texture and a longer shelf life, which is noticeable in products like cereal, white flour, white bread, and white rice. These days, many refined grains are enriched, meaning they have essential nutrients like B vitamins and iron, although they lack fiber. Enriched, refined grains, however, do contain folic acid, which Mohr notes is sometimes lacking even in whole grains in their natural state.

Folic acid is crucial for various reasons, including its role in DNA and RNA formation. It is recommended during pregnancy but is essential for everyone, as it improves digestive system functioning and helps prevent common cancers, cardiovascular disease, infertility, stroke, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

“That’s why it’s important to make sure that you are including some refined grains, especially those enriched with folic acid,” emphasizes Mohr. When shopping, be sure to check the packaging or nutrition labels to determine if a refined grain is enriched, as organic products may not be fortified.

Understanding Whole Grains

To appreciate whole grains, you need to understand the anatomy of a grain kernel, which consists of three parts:

  • Bran: This is the hard outer coating of the grain that contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Germ: The “embryo” of the germ is capable of sprouting into a new plant and contains B vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat.
  • Endosperm: This is the largest part of the grain kernel, supplying energy to the plant and containing carbohydrates, proteins, and some vitamins and minerals.

Whole grains, as the name suggests, retain the entire grain kernel. When grains are refined, the bran and germ are stripped away, leaving only the inside endosperm. Unfortunately, this process removes most of the grain’s vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.

How to Incorporate More Healthy Grains into Your Diet

When shopping for grains, it’s important to know how to identify whole grains. The color of the product can sometimes be misleading since bread and other grain products are occasionally dyed with molasses. To be sure you’re getting whole grains, always check the ingredient list.

“You want the words ‘whole grain’ to be at the beginning of the ingredient list,” advises Mohr. Making the switch to whole grain products can be easy. You can opt for whole grain bread instead of white or whole wheat bread, choose brown or wild rice occasionally instead of the usual white rice, or explore whole grain bagel options.

Incorporating whole grain cereals into your morning routine is another great way to increase your daily intake of dietary fiber, which has many health benefits. Research indicates that regularly consuming ready-to-eat cereals, especially those made from whole grains, can significantly boost your overall dietary fiber intake.

About Author

Emily Johnson

Meet Emily Johnson, a rising star in the world of news reporting. Armed with a Communications degree from Harvard University, Emily's writing is a perfect blend of creativity and fact-based journalism. She specializes in human-interest stories, bringing the personal touch that makes every story relatable. Whether it's heartwarming tales or societal issues, Emily is your guide to the trending news you won't want to miss.

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