You’ve likely heard that eating whole grains is good for you. It’s true — whole grains are not only a great part of an overall healthy diet, but they are loaded with fiber and nutrients and offer numerous important health benefits, including those for the heart.
The iron found in whole grains is used to carry oxygen in the blood. Other key vitamins and minerals found in whole grains play a vital role in metabolism and help the body form red blood cells. When eaten regularly, fiber has been shown to be associated with increased diet quality, decreased cardiovascular risk, and slower progression of cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals. Furthermore, some studies have shown that whole grains may reduce risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. Another benefit of consuming whole grains is that they lower cholesterol if eaten as part of a healthy diet and they help keep you full so you don’t overeat.
All Grains Are Not Created Equal
There are two main types of grain products: whole grains and refined grains.
A whole grain contains all the good-for-you essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. So how do you know if what you’re buying is a whole grain? These are easy to identify — just look for the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark on food package labels. This mark is designed to help you identify foods, including whole grains, that are consistent with a heart-healthy diet.
A whole grain can be found on an ingredient list as one of the following:
- Whole wheat (not wheat flour)
- Whole graham flour
- Whole oats
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Whole grain corn
- Whole grain barley
- Whole wheat bulgur
- Whole rye
- Wheat berries
Refined grains are what’s left after a whole grain has undergone a process where it has been ground into a flour. Unfortunately, this process strips much of a grain’s iron, fiber, and nutrients. You may see nutrition labels stating that a product is an “enriched” grain. Don’t be fooled – enriched does not mean it’s a whole grain. The truth is an enriched grain is really a refined grain with some of the vitamins and iron added back in after processing. However, fiber is generally not added back. Some examples of enriched grains are white rice, wheat flour, and enriched bread.
It’s easy to choose heart-healthy whole grains once you know what to look for on ingredient lists and package labels. Be sure to read labels carefully to be sure you are getting the heart-healthy whole grain and not a refined or enriched grain. And don’t go by the color of a product. Many people think if a bread product is dark in color, it’s a whole grain. Not true! Look for the word “whole” to be sure you are getting what you’re looking for.
Easy to Prepare and Delicious
The best way to include whole grains in your diet is to substitute commonly used foods with whole grain options. Some people steer away from whole grains because they don’t know how to prepare them. It’s not as hard as you may think. You can find easy, delicious recipes by visiting heart.org/recipes or eatingwell.com. More information is available at heart.org.