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USDA Nutrition Guidelines

Grain Basics

Grain foods, especially whole grains, are a great source of fiber and other nutrients. They include bread, cereals, rice, pasta, and crackers. The starch in grains is an easy energy source for all your body's activities. Grain foods are represented by the broad orange band on MyPyramid. Whole grains are your wisest choice for getting fiber and nutrients. A whole grain contains its entire kernel. The kernel has three components -- the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. These parts of the grain hold the fiber and most of the nutrients that give you good health. This article will focus on grain consumption and nutrition. We'll get started with daily grain recommendations.

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Grains are a good source for fiber and other nutrients.

How Much Should I Eat?

People watching their weight will probably eat five or six "ounce-equivalents" of grain each day. The Dietary Guidelines recommend at least half of these ounce-equivalents (oz-eq) be whole grain. An ounce-equivalent (one serving) is the same as 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, or cooked cereal, 1 ounce dry pasta or rice, 1 slice bread, 1 small muffin weighing about 1 ounce (most bakery muffins weigh 5 to 6 ounces), or 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal flakes. This amount of carbohydrates will keep your body fueled, especially as you're becoming more active. Carbohydrates, along with repeated physical exertion, are the key to building muscle strength and endurance, so don't skip the carbs.

How Much Fiber Do You Need?
Aim for about 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat. That's about one gram of fiber for every 70 calories. On an 1,800-calorie-a-day food pattern, that would come to 25 grams of fiber.
What's In It for Me?

Eating 3 ounce-equivalents or more of whole grains each day can help with weight management as well as reduce the risk of several chronic diseases. Whole-grain foods are chock-full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and several special phytochemicals. These phytochemicals include phytoestrogens, phenolic compounds, and phytic acid. Phytoestrogens mimic your body's own more potent estrogens. Phytoestrogens may help prevent estrogen-linked cancers such as breast cancer. Phenolic compounds are potent antioxidants and cancer fighters. Phytic acid prevents the formation of cell-damaging antioxidants and also fights cancer.

When whole grains are processed, many of the phytochemicals, nutrients, and fiber are lost. The bran and germ, which are the most nutrient-dense, are discarded during milling, leaving only the starchy endosperm that has few nutrients. In the case of wheat, this starchy endosperm becomes white flour. White flour is an example of a processed, or refined, grain. Most refined grains are enriched before being made into foods such as bread, cereal, pasta, and flour. When making flour in the United States, food processors are required to replace some of the nutrients lost in refining. Although four B-vitamins and iron are added back to refined flour, many nutrients are not replaced.

The missing-in-action list includes chromium and fiber. Chromium is a mineral vital to processing the carbohydrates you eat. Fiber, of course, creates a feeling of fullness and helps keep your digestive tract on track. Enriched products contain more iron and folate than were originally present in the whole grain. This is because of the important role they play in good health. If you choose to make all of your grain choices whole grains, the Dietary Guidelines suggest that some of them be folate-fortified to make sure you get enough of this important nutrient.

Best Bites for Weight Loss

As you focus on eating more whole-grain foods, remember to eat fewer processed grain products to avoid exceeding the calorie level of your eating pattern. Portion size is important, too. Grains are great -- but not too much of them! To eat fewer calories when choosing grain products, check the Nutrition Facts panel. Look for products that have the most fiber with the least amount of calories, fat -- especially saturated fat -- and sugar. You may be surprised to find considerable amounts of fat and sugar in grain foods. These calorie-laden additions often hide in cereals and crackers, in addition to cookies and many bakery goods.

Be a Label Looker

Which of the granolas have the most fiber? The least sugar? The least fat and saturated fat? Which granola would be the best choice? How does it compare to the oatmeal? Which has the least calories?

Grain Suggestions
There's more to whole grains than whole-wheat and bran. Try a recipe or two that uses grains you're not familiar with -- you'll be pleasantly surprised by the new flavors and textures. And you'll benefit from the additional nutrients when you broaden your selection of grains.

Choose from the following whole grains:

  • Whole wheat

  • Whole oats/oatmeal

  • Whole-grain corn

  • Popcorn

  • Brown rice

  • Whole rye
As a general guideline, choose cereals that have 2 grams or more of fiber, 5 grams or less of added sugar, and less than
2 grams of fat. It's not always easy to tell which cereals are whole grain. Foods you might think are whole grain, such as Cream of Wheat, Cream of Rice, grits, and corn flakes, are
not whole grain. Cereals that do contain the whole kernel of grain include Cheerios, granola or muesli, Grape-Nuts, oatmeal, raisin bran, shredded wheat, Total, Wheatena, and Wheaties, to name some popular ones. Many natural food stores carry whole-grain cereals. It doesn't get any easier in the bread aisle. When choosing whole-grain bread, don't rely on color. Manufacturers often use coloring, such as caramel coloring in wheat bread, to make you think it is a whole-grain product when it's not. Look for products that say "100% whole" or "whole" before the name of the grain, such as "100% whole-wheat bread" or "whole-oat cereal."

The whole grain should be the first ingredient in the ingredient list. Terms such as wheat flour, enriched flour, and degerminated cornmeal are processed, not whole, grains. Don't fall for misleading labels or you'll miss out on the filling fiber and nutrients you need.

Practice Portion Control

Choose breads that are not only whole grain but also small in size. A slice of bread used to be about the size of a compact disc cover. Now the standard slice of bread is about one and a half times that size. This means more calories, not only from each slice of bread you eat but also from all the items you put on the bread. When you make a sandwich with the larger slices, you get half-again as much mayonnaise, tuna salad, or peanut butter than if you used the smaller slices.

Portion sizes for many grain foods, such as bagels and muffins, have increased dramatically over the years. For instance, one-half of a small bagel (3.5 inches in diameter) is a little more than one ounce. That means the whole bagel will give you a little more than 2 ounce-equivalents for one-third of your daily grain requirements. A whole medium bagel (4.5 inches in diameter) packs nearly 4 ounce-equivalents and about 100 more calories than the smaller one.

Crackers, such as whole wheat or whole rye crackers, can be a source of whole grains. Choose the ones lowest in fat.

In the next section, we will discuss ways to better implement grains into your diet.

Recommended Daily Grain Intake

 Calorie Level
5 oz-eq
6 oz-eq
7 oz-eq
Whole Grains
Other Grains

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.