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All of us can think of a food and have flashbacks to our childhood. Foods that transport us back in time. For me, I remember the taste of Wonderbread, and the way the white fluffy slices would practically melt in my mouth. I also remember the day my mother banned the bread in favor of its counterpart, the dreaded whole wheat bread. These days, I’m grateful I made the transition early on, but why was it necessary? What’s so great about whole grains anyways?
Apart from whole wheat bread, some other foods that are considered “whole grains” include rice, oats, quinoa, barley, rye sorghum, corn and amaranth. When you eat the white, processed forms of these foods such as white flour, white bread or white rice, you’re eating the same grain except the outside layers of the kernel have been removed to reveal the pure white insides. Grains were originally processed like this because the white flours and breads looked nicer and appeared more upscale.
However, the problem with this process is that most of the nutrients and fiber are found in those outside layers of the grains and so they, too, are removed.
According to recent studies and publications, the dietary fiber found in whole grains is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Adding fiber to your diet can help lower blood pressure and decrease cholesterol levels. Whole grains also make you feel full and satisfied, which prevents overeating. For diabetics, increasing fiber intake can be a great tool, because fiber aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels and optimizing glucose control. Overall, whole grains are pretty great and are an important part of a heart healthy diet.
The American Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics recommends at least 3 (1 ounce) servings of whole grains daily, which should be half of your daily grain intake based on a well-balanced 2,000-calorie diet. For example, having oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich on whole wheat bread for lunch and a scoop of brown rice with dinner would satisfy your daily whole grain servings. Below, are some tips for your next shopping trip:
* Read the ingredients list. The whole grain name should be listed first. Look or phrases like whole oats, whole wheat flour or whole grain brown rice.
* Be cautious with food labels. Labels can be deceptive, for example, bread called “wheat bread” is often a mixture of wheat and white flours. Again, a whole grain bread has a whole grain flour listed as the first ingredient (whole wheat flour or whole rye flour, example).
* Be adventurous and try a new whole grain. Amaranth and quinoa are considered “super-foods” and are cooked in similar ways as rice. You can find these grains in most supermarkets or health food stores, packaged in a small bag or box.
* Skip white rice. If you feel brown rice is too “hard,” try adding ¼ cup more water than the recipe calls for and cook it a bit longer to achieve a softer texture.
Stefanie Mendez, RD, is a Clinical Dietician at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals.