Select whole grains to improve your health!

Published 7:42 pm Friday, April 3, 2020

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Most of the grains that we eat in the United States are refined grains, not whole grains. Furthermore, almost 40% of the refined grains Americans eat are from yeast bread such as hamburger buns and pizza crust. Most Americans eat approximately seven ounces of grain per day. Less than one ounce (on average) is a whole grain bread. The Med Way recommendation is to make most of your grains whole, instead of refined grains, the norm. Eating lots of refined grains is associated with increased body fat. Eating at least three servings of whole grains a day is associated with decreased abdominal (belly) fat. The takeaway: whole and refined grains are not the same when it comes to overweight and obesity.

Minimally processed carbohydrates are an important part of Mediterranean eating pattern. Our healthiest carbs are found in fruits, vegetables and legumes — we need to eat lots of them throughout the day. Choose starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas and corn) less often than other vegetables, as they are not shown to have the same protective effect. Unprocessed whole grains are a great choice as they have fiber from the grains naturally. Whole grains are grains that have the bran, endosperm and germ intact.

Choose whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, popcorn and bulgur. Eat unprocessed whole grains in combination with lots of fruits, vegetables and legumes for a delicious Med Way combination.

Moving across the carbohydrate continuum are “lightly processed whole grains without added sugar. “ Good examples of lightly processed whole grains are rolled oats and whole-grain pasta. Next are foods made with whole grains and without added sugar. These have a whole grain as the first ingredient on the nutrition label. When shopping, choose 100% whole-grain breads, crackers and cereals. To do this look for “whole” as the first ingredient in the ingredient list, like “whole wheat” on the nutrition food label. Opt for whole-grain foods that are made with minimal ingredients and minimal added sugar.

Refined grains are grains that have the germ and bran (two of the most nutritious parts of the grain) removed. We are encouraged to eat less foods made with refined grains such as enriched pasta, French or white bread, white flour crackers and biscuits, white rice and certainly limit those made with lots sugar. When in a dining situation where whole-grain pasta or whole-grain breads are not an option, always remember to seek more vegetables, beans and fish to improve your nutritional consumption.

One of the best ways to be mindful of exactly what you and your family are eating is to become a label reader. Reading food labels helps you make the best choices when grocery shopping. The Food and Drug Administration requires that almost all packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts label (small packages and manufactures with a small production may be exempt from having a Nutrition Facts label). Ingredients are listed in order by weight of the ingredient in the food. The ingredient present in the largest amount by weight is listed first. Thus, when it comes to selecting the best grains and breads read the label and look at the first ingredient to read “whole” not enriched or refined grain.


Banana Oatmeal Pancakes

A delicious whole grain alternative to traditional pancakes (typically made with enriched wheat flour). This recipe is a great way to use bananas whose peels have started to brown; the riper the banana, the easier to mash and the more flavor they will give the pancakes! Top with sliced fruit, peanut butter or chopped nuts if desired.

Serves 2
Serving Size: 3 pancakes
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes


2 eggs, beaten; 2 bananas, mashed; 1/2 cup of old fashioned rolled oats, uncooked; ½ teaspoon baking powder; 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon; 1/2 teaspoon olive oil; 1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit of your choice (optional)


In a medium bowl, combine eggs, bananas, rolled oats, baking powder, vanilla extract and cinnamon. Batter should be cohesive and without lumps.

Heat olive oil in medium skillet on medium-low heat. Once heated, spoon 1/4-cup portions of the batter onto skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides (about four minutes on each side).

Heat fruit in small skillet until warm, stirring occasionally. Serve over pancakes. You can also serve pancakes with chopped nuts or peanut butter on top.

Nutrition information per serving (based on 1/2 cup frozen mixed fruit): serving size, 3 pancakes; vegetables, 0 cups; fruits, 1 1/4 cups; calories, 302 calories; carbohydrates, 47 grams; fiber, 6 grams; protein, 11 grams; fat, 9 grams and sodium, 198 mg.


Lunch Salad

This is called lunch salad because, yes, you guessed it, it makes a great lunch. Instead of taking tuna, egg or chicken salad for lunch, which contain mostly meat, you can make this quick lunch salad that incorporates so many more vegetables and grains and is as satisfying as it is good for you. There are multiple variations but the basic premise is a whole grain/bean/vegetable/and protein (chicken, tuna or more beans) combination. Other ways to vary this dish would be to add fruit in place of some of the vegetables. This recipe is so flexible you can adapt for what is in season or what you have in your pantry and refrigerator — the possibilities are endless!

Serves 6
Serving Size: 1 1/4 cups
Prep Time: 25 minutes to an hour (based on choices)
Cook Time: (depends on grain selected)
Total Time: 25 minutes to an hour and a half (based on choices)


Choose 2 cups whole grain: brown rice, quinoa and/or bulgur; choose 1 cup beans: garbanzo beans, pinto beans, black eyed peas and/or white beans; choose three cups of chopped vegetables (choose a combination or just one of carrots, cucumbers, summer squash, green peppers, celery, onion, Napa cabbage, broccoli and/or cauliflower); choose a protein: 6 ounces of grilled chicken, 1 (5-ounce) can of tuna, 1 cup of beans (additional), or 3 ounces of nuts (about 1/2 cup of almonds or 2/3 cup of peanuts). Dressing: 6 tablespoons olive oil and 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


Mix your selections with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of your choice). Place in six individual containers. You are ready for a week (almost) of lunches.

Nutrition information per serving (based on quinoa; garbanzo beans; carrots; celery; broccoli; and chicken): serving size, 1 1/4 cups; vegetables, 3/4 cup; fruits, 0 cups; calories, 225 calories; carbohydrates, 19 grams; fiber, 4 grams; protein, 4 grams; fat, 15 grams and sodium, 76 mg.

The source for this column is N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Meds instead of Meds educational program. For more information about foods and nutrition, please contact Louise L. Hinsley, at the Beaufort County Center of N.C. Cooperative Extension, 155 Airport Road, Washington, 252-946-0111. Be sure to like the Beaufort County FCS Facebook page for upcoming classes.

Louise L. Hinsley is the family consumer sciences extension agent at Beaufort County Cooperative Extension.