Whole grains. Eat them more often, say experts.
"We know that whole grains are better than refined grains because of fiber, vitamins, and minerals," says researcher Joanne Slavin of the University of Minnesota.
Uncle Ben's may be convenient. But "enriched" white rice, the only kind most Americans are used to eating, is nutritionally bankrupt.
Sure, you get the three B-vitamins and iron that are added to all enriched grains. But you lose the fiber, magnesium, vitamins E and B-6, copper, zinc, and who-knows-what phytochemicals that are in the whole grain.
The solution: Be adventurous.
Try brown rice instead of plain white. You can even get brown basmati or quick-cooking brown rice. Or give amaranth, buckwheat groats (kasha), or whole grain bulgur a try.
Now she and others are beginning to ask whether other things in whole grains-antioxidants, lignans, phenolic acids, phytoestrogens, and other phytochemicals may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
"Like fruits and vegetables, it's the package of nutrients that may be important," says Stavin.
Just last month, Harvard researchers reported that women who ate more whole grains had a lower risk of diabetes. Why?
"When you eat whole grains, you get more fiber and more micronutrients like folic acid, magnesium, and vitamin E," says Walter Willett, who chairs the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It may be almost impossible to isolate the pieces of the puzzle."
If whole grains are so healthy, why do an estimated 80 percent of us eat them less than once a day? It doesn't help that many people don't even know what whole grains are.
1. Which breads are usually all or mostly whole grain? (a) whole wheat, (b) multi-grain, (c) rye, (d) pumpernickel
2. Which grains are whole? (a) bulgur, (b) quinoa, (c) couscous, (d) oatmeal
3. Which cereals are whole grain? (a) Total, (b) Product 19, (c) Special K, (d) corn flakes, (e)shredded wheat, (f) cream of wheat
1. a. In theory, multi-grain, rye, and pumpernickel breads can be all or mostly whole grain. In most of the U.S. and Canada, however, only whole wheat bread is (see "The Bread & Cracker Box").
2. b, d. Quinoa and oatmeal are whole grains. Bulgur and couscous sometimes are and sometimes aren't.
3. a, e. Total, Product 19, and Special K have healthy reputations. Of the three, only Total is whole grain (see "Cereal Numbers").
It's not easy to separate the whole wheat from the refined chaff nowadays. Shoppers may understand that a refined grain has had most of its bran and germ removed (see "Meet the Kernel").
But they may still be stumped when it comes to guessing whether, say, pearled barley is refined (yes), or if cornmeal is whole grain (rarely), or whether unbleached wheat flour is white flour (always).
"Consumers can't figure out what's whole grain and what isn't," says University of Minnesota researcher Joanne Slavin. "The bagel store sells 'whole grain' bagels, but are they really whole grain? It's a big mess."
It's not just a mess for consumers. If people don't know whether they're eating whole grains, they can't accurately report their intake to researchers who are trying to find out if whole-grain-eaters are healthier.
Until recently, hardly anyone has looked at whether whole grains as opposed to substances (like fiber) in whole grains-can lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or other illnesses.
Now that scientists are starting to look, they're hitting some stumbling blocks:
And researchers who did ask for specifics are just beginning to sort out the whole from the refined grains.
"In the Iowa Women's Health Study, we see a lower risk of heart disease in people who consume dark, but not white, bread," says Lawrence Kushi, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist. (Even if some of the "dark" bread isn't whole grain, some of it is.) "But we haven't looked at breakfast cereals, and we haven't looked at cancers yet."
The Icons below will guide you to the other Whole Grain Guide Pages