I’m hooked on dense whole-grain bread, oatmeal, popcorn and shredded wheat. As a kid growing up in Ohio, it was Wheaties, too. I’m sure my mother, who lived to age 96, never dreamed whole grains would become scientifically approved health foods. She fed them to us because they “stuck to your ribs” and tasted good.
That’s still the best reason to eat them. And sometimes I add blueberries and walnuts and maple syrup to the oatmeal and brush olive oil on whole-wheat toast. But now I also eat them because I know how good they are for me.
My addiction has recently gained plenty of scientific support. The new U.S. Dietary Guidelines urge eating three daily servings of whole grains, for a total of 48 grams a day. Most Americans eat less than one serving, and about a third of us don’t eat any. Fortunately, the health buzz is spurring manufacturers to produce more whole-grain cereals, breads, pasta, cookies, bagels, tortillas, couscous, even frozen dinners.
If everyone ate more whole grains, instead of wimpy refined grains, disease rates and deaths would drop, experts say. Here are six good reasons to join me in making whole grains a daily habit:
- CONTROLS WEIGHT. Women and men who ate more whole grains consistently gained less weight over an eight- to 12-year period in Harvard studies. Whole grains decrease hunger by making you feel full and by curbing blood sugar spikes that trigger appetite.
- CURBS COLON CANCER. Women who ate more than 4 1/2 daily servings of whole grains were one-third less apt to develop colon cancer than those who ate less than 1 1/2 servings a day, a new Swedish study finds.
- DEFEATS DIABETES. People who eat the most whole grains, especially high-fiber cereals, are 20% to 30% less likely to develop insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, according to research from Tufts, Harvard and the University of Minnesota.
- STOPS HEART DISEASE. Harvard investigators found that men who ate a bowl of whole-grain cereal every day cut their risk of dying of cardiovascular disease by 20%. In another Harvard study, eating highbran whole grains three times a day cut the risk of heart disease nearly 30%. Researchers declared the bran in cereals particularly potent.
- DROPS BLOOD PRESSURE. Eating a whole-grain oat cereal, such as oatmeal, every day for three months enabled 73% of those with high blood pressure to reduce or eliminate their need for medication, University of Minnesota investigators reported.
- SAVES LIVES. Older women in Iowa who ate whole grains containing 4.7 grams of fiber daily were 17% less likely to die of any cause in a 10-year period than were women who ate refined grains, says a University of Minnesota study.
What is a whole grain?
Intact kernels packed with health-promoting bran, fiber, vitamins (such as B and E), minerals (such as magnesium and zinc) and phytonutrients (including antioxidants).
How to be sure it’s a whole-grain food.
Read labels carefully. They can be tricky. Rule: The first ingredient of a whole-grain food must have the word “whole” in it, such as whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye flour, whole barley. Cereal labels often say 100% whole grain.
Look for a new package logo.
Developed by the Whole Grains Council, a food industry group, the logo has three messages. “Good Source” foods deliver 8 grams, or half a serving, of whole grain. Foods labeled “Excellent Source” contain 16 grams. “100% Excellent Whole Grain” means all grain ingredients are whole grain.