My Whole Grain Journey

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A confession.  As an educator, I try really hard to “walk the talk.”  Sometimes that’s hard to do. Or sometimes I think I’m doing fairly well while following a recommendation, but it turns out that I'm not doing so well at all.

So I had an assignment to write about whole grains. This corresponds with the release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 that says that half the grains we’re eating should be whole grains. While this recommendation has been part of the Dietary Guidelines for many years, it appears that very few folks actually reach that goal. Me included.

If I was going to write about the need to increase the amount and proportion of whole grains in our diets, I would have to try to do it too.

I decided to start by evaluating where I am now.

I thought I was doing pretty well with whole grains. I do look for whole grain bread and whole grain snacks. But how many whole grains do I really get in these products?

I have brown rice, red rice, and even black rice in the pantry. Sometimes I cook whole grain rice, but not all the time. I like cold quinoa salads, but don’t make them often because I’m the only person that eats them.

An occasional side dish, bread,  a snack, or a salad really wasn’t getting me to the three whole grain servings recommended each day. I had to work on this.

One of the common recommendations for increasing your whole grain intake is to swap something you’re currently eating with a similar product that contains more whole grains. To do this, you have to actually buy those items. So I took some time at the grocery store to seriously look for products that contain whole grains.

First Stop: Cereal section Yikes. I like granola, but a close look at the ingredient list reveals that there’s a lot of sugar (both natural and added) in most of these products.  It wasn’t worth it to me to get all that sugar along with the whole grains.  I had to search and search for a product that was acceptable in both added sugar content and whole grain content. 

Second Stop: Rice section In reality, there wasn’t much there. I have to give the store credit, brown rice was available. I was looking for plain wild rice. Not there. There was a blend with white, red, and wild rice, but it cooked in 15 minutes (made me wonder if it was processed) and also the dietary fiber amount in the Nutrition Facts label was low. On top of that, that blend was really EXPENSIVE. This journey to find whole grain wasn’t going to be easy. 

Third Stop: Specialty foods This store featured a variety of packaged products that seemed to contain more whole grains. Again, close label reading was necessary.  There were several blends like Barley and Lentils, 7 Grain Mix and Quinoa and Brown Rice in microwaveable pouches. These grains were precooked, so they essentially they just needed a quick reheat in the microwave. The dietary fiber content appeared to be good, with an average of 9 grams per 4 ounces. The sodium count was reasonable (350 mg). Not great, but acceptable. I don’t usually buy precooked, processed foods like this, but I bought several. I admit it was easy and a simple way to try new grains out.  Again, they weren’t cheap.

I couldn’t find any dry, uncooked whole grains such as millet, barley, farro, or quinoa. This was going to require a trip to a different store or an online search. There were some whole grain pastas and of course whole grain bread and cracker products, but again, careful label reading was needed. 

Another quick story: So one day I thought, I really have to get serious about this. I pulled stone-ground oatmeal out of the pantry.  It takes 30-40 minutes to cook, but I wanted it NOW. So I tried the microwave instructions.  They said to use a really large bowl so it won’t overflow. I did, but I guess mine wasn’t large enough. What a mess! I did get oats that morning, but not as easily as I thought. The lesson learned:  make a big batch of oats at one time (on top of the stove), store it in the refrigerator, and just reheat as needed.

This is going to be a journey. Eating half my grains as whole isn’t as easy as we teach.  It doesn’t just happen, you have to work at it.

Of course, Food and Health Communications can help. Over the years we’ve shared many tips, recipes, and hacks for increasing your whole grains.  I've found a few handouts that I thought might be useful. Check them out and join us on this delicious journey!

And of course there are a variety of whole grain products in the Nutrition Education Store!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

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