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The benefits of whole grains + tips to eat more

by tamarajune
Published: Last Updated on

Grains are a staple in almost all diets around the world. However, in recent years, they got a bad reputation.

This is unfortunate because grains are very healthy and a great source of nutrients.

The only problem is that many grains nowadays are highly processed (refined grains).

As a result, they lose most of their vitamins, minerals, and fiber, as well as other health-promoting components. 

So, to motivate you to add more unprocessed grains to your diet, we’ll explore the health benefits of whole grains in this post.

Plus, you’ll discover 4 easy to implement ways to add more whole grains to your diet. 

Note: In addition to whole grains and refined grains, there are also enriched grains, which are refined grains that have some nutrients added back to them. However, they are not nearly as nutritious as whole grains. 

Before we talk more about the benefits of whole grains and how to add more to your diet, we need to address nutrition labels. 

The importance of reading nutrition labels:

Food producers are sneaky nowadays. Unfortunately, you can’t determine the healthfulness of a product by its color.

Just because a grain product is brown and not white, doesn’t mean that it is a whole grain. Many producers color their products to trick consumers.

That’s why I encourage you to always read nutrition labels before you buy a product.

Look out for indicators like “100% whole grain,” “100% whole wheat”, and “wholemeal.”

Bonus points if these ingredients are listed as the first ingredient.

Summary: Always read nutrition labels. A product may look like it’s made from whole grains, but that doesn’t mean it actually is. 

Benefits of whole grains:

Whole grain rice kernels in a heart-shaped bowl

Whole grains

  • are a great source of 
    • Protein
    • Antioxidants 
    • Iron
    • Zinc
    • Magnesium
    • Copper 
    • Manganese
    • Phosphorus
    • Fiber 
    • Selenium (only when grown in regions where the soil is rich in selenium)
    • Folate
    • Vitamin B3
    • Vitamin B1 
  • can help lower the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure
  • promote healthy gut bacteria and healthy digestion 
  • in contrast to refined grains, don’t cause a quick spike in blood sugar 
  • may help lower cholesterol levels  
  • promote satiety, which can aid in archiving/maintaining a healthy weight 
  • reduce inflammation
  • may lower the premature death risk if consumed regularly 

Summary: The benefits of whole grains include that they are rich in many vitamins and minerals and can help lower the risk of chronic diseases. Moreover, consuming whole grains may improve digestion, promote satiety, reduce inflammation, and aid in the achievement/maintenance of a healthy weight. 

How many servings of whole grains should you eat every day?

The daily recommended intake for whole-grains is 3 servings. 

How big is one serving of whole-grains? 

  • 1 serving is about 100 g (½ cup) of hot cereal or cooked grains, pasta, or corn kernels, 
  • or 50 g (1 cup) cold cereal, 
  • or 1 whole-wheat tortilla or 1 slice of whole-grain bread, 
  • or 30 g (3 cups) popcorn.

How to cook whole-grains:

A bowl of whole grain noodles in a brown bowl as an example of what to eat to enjoy the benefits of whole grains

Every whole-grain needs to be cooked differently. So your best bet is to follow the instructions on the packaging.

But if you shop package-free or can’t find the instructions, here is an excellent overview of how to cook almost all whole-grains. 

Gluten intolerance/sensitivity 

While whole grains offer many benefits, not all people can enjoy them as they please. Some people have gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity.

As a result, they have to avoid grains that contain gluten.

However, they can still harness the benefits of whole grains by consuming gluten-free grains. 

List of whole grains 

Grains that contain gluten 

  • Oats
  • Whole wheat 
  • Couscous
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole wheat noodles 
  • Bulgur
  • Hulled Barley
  • Spelt 
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Wheatberry
  • Kamut
  • Millet

Gluten-free grains:

  • Buckwheat 
  • Quinoa 
  • Brown rice 
  • Corn
  • Wild rice
  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth 
  • Certified gluten-free oats

Check out this article on how to eat vegan and gluten-free if you want to learn more about a gluten-free diet. 

Now that you learned about the benefits of whole grains, how many servings you should eat every day, and how large a serving size is, let’s talk about how you can easily up your intake.

4 easy ways to eat more whole grains

Wheat berries laying on a wooden surface

1. Replace refined grains with whole grains 

The easiest way to add whole grains to your diet is by replacing refined and enriched grains with more wholesome options.

So, you can simply set the goal to opt for the whole-grain option once you run out of a grain product and need to purchase a new one.

Here are a few examples:

  • Bread -> whole-grain bread
  • Tortilla -> whole-wheat tortilla or corn tortilla
  • Rice -> brown rice, wild rice
  • Pasta -> whole grain pasta
  • Flour -> whole wheat flour

Summary: One of the easiest ways to incorporate more whole grains into your diet is by replacing refined and enriched grains with whole grains. 

2.Snack on whole grains

Snacks are a simple and delicious way to add whole grains to your diet. One of the most popular options is oil-free popcorn.

But you can also enjoy whole-grain rice cakes with avocado and sprouts or whole-grain crackers with hummus and topped with arugula. 

Summary: Snacking on whole grains is a simple and delicious way to increase your intake. Enjoy some oil-free popcorn or whole-grain crackers/rice cakes with hummus/avocado and sprouts/arugula for a healthy and filling snack. 

3. Make whole grains a part of all your main meals

Whole grain bread on a table with a slice cut off

One of the easiest ways to eat more whole grains is by consuming one serving at each of your big meals.

You can enjoy these whole grains as a side or incorporate them into a main meal.

Eating whole grains for breakfast can be as simple as making oatmeal. But you could also make some whole-grain avocado toast with sprouts.

Further, you could use a whole-wheat tortilla to prepare a breakfast burrito or use whole grain flour for your pancakes. 

You can also serve whatever you have for breakfast (f.e. scrambled tofu) with a slice of whole-grain bread/toast.

For lunch and dinner, there are many possibilities to add whole grains to your diet as well. Whole grains can be used as a side for most meals.

A simple yet delicious option is to make brown rice/bulgur/millet/couscous seasoned with fresh herbs and lemon/lime.

Or if you have a stew or soup, you can serve it with whole-grain bread or crackers. 

Speaking of soup, if you add noodles to your soup, why not go with whole-grain noodles and you are good to go!

Corn on the cob is another easy and super delicious way to add a serving of grains. 

You can also make whole grains a part of your main dish.

You can make pasta, quinoa/couscous salad with or a healthy whole-wheat vegetable pizza. 

If you are craving a hearty salad, why not add some grains to it?

Quinoa is probably the most common way to do so, but I find most grains work fine (I really like wheat berries). 

Summary: Another easy way to eat more whole grains is by adding a serving of them to each of your main meals.

4. Cook larger amounts of grains at ones and freeze them in individual servings

Always having grains ready that you only need to warm-up will encourage you to eat them more often because minimal effort is required (heating them up vs. spending 20-30 minutes cooking the grain).

Thus, if you are busy or had a long day, there are no excuses to order pizza.

You can use the cooked grains you have in the freezer and transform them into a quick and gratifying meal, like a couscous salad.

Moreover, you can use these grains as an easy side to whatever meal you are cooking. 

Summary: Batch cooking and freezing whole grains in individual servings makes eating whole grains more convenient and thus encourages you to eat more. 

Summary: Benefits of whole grains + how to eat more

Infographic listing the most important benefits of whole grains and offers tips for how to increase your intake

What is your favorite way to enjoy whole grains? 

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