On Sunday, while in Chicago for Expectant Grandparents’ class at Prentice Women’s Hospital, Mary and I had lunch at a cool restaurant called Pinstripes on Grand Avenue. Bowling alley, bocce courts, bar, food, event space and outdoor fire pit and seating along Lake Michigan. The menu is as varied as the venue. There was a wider array of whole grain offerings than I can ever remember seeing anywhere before. When it comes to weight loss, we’ve long seen bread as a villain. But, in reality, if that bread is made of whole grain it can be an essential part of a healthy diet.
White, refined breads and grains can be a challenge in the struggle to control your weight. But whole grains can support weight loss and a whole host of other health benefits.
Whole grains are great sources of complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, protein, fiber, antioxidants and trace minerals like iron, zinc, copper and magnesium. Whole grains also tend to be naturally low in fat – all of that alone makes whole grains a healthy option, but they have even more to offer.
Studies have linked whole grains to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other health issues. Incorporating whole grains into your diet can also improve bowel health by helping to maintain regular bowel movements and promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.
There are three edible parts of grains: bran, germ and endosperm. In order for a food to be considered ‘whole grain’ it has to contain all three of these components.
It’s important to note that not all breads are whole grain and there are whole grain options in addition to bread. This confusion may contribute to the findings that the average American eat less than one serving of whole grains per day and more than 40 percent never eat whole grains at all.
That could be partially due to the difficulty in telling which foods at the store are actually whole grain – products in the bread, cereal and snack aisles often are in packages saying they’re multigrain, 100 percent wheat, organic, pumpernickel, stone ground, bran and a whole slew of other words that sound healthy, but none of those mean the product is whole grain.
Look at the ingredients. If it says it contains any type of refined grains that means the whole grain was milled, stripping out the bran and germ to get a finer texture and extend shelf life.
When a grain is refined, you lose about 25 percent of its protein and many key nutrients, including fiber. Refined grains include white flour, white rice, white bread and de-germed cornflower. A lot of breads, cereals, crackers, desserts and pastries are made with refined grains.
If you want to make sure what you’re eating is whole grain, look for these grains:
- Whole oats/oatmeal
- Brown rice
- Whole rye
- Whole grain barley
- Whole grain corn
- Wild rice
- Bulgur, cracked wheat
- 100 percent whole wheat flour
These whole grains can either be single foods, like brown rice and quinoa, or they can serve as ingredients in products like whole wheat.
In addition to reading the ingredients list, you can look for the FDA-approved health claim “Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.” This claim is only on whole-grain products that contain at least 51 percent whole grain ingredients by weight and are low in fat.
You can look for the Whole Grain Council’s whole-grain stamp on the package, which shows you how many grams of whole grains are in each serving.
Mary and I will surely scope out more Chicago sites in upcoming months.
Kate and Andy’s baby is due this week.
Dr. Alfred Casale is chairman of surgery for the Geisinger Heart Institute, co-director of the Cardiovascular Service Line for the Geisinger Health System and Associate Chief Medical Officer for the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. Readers may write to him via [email protected]