I frequently get asked why we need more whole grains (the recommendation is at least half of your total grain intake). People will show me the nutritional information of both a “white” and “whole grain” bread to demonstrate that there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two. And, I get their point. What they’re missing is what’s missing on the nutrition label. Back nearly 150 years ago, when food companies starting mass producing our food, it removed the bran and germ from the traditional whole grain bread. While white bread was an immediate hit, the missing vitamins caused serious deficiencies. That’s what led to the fortification (called “enriched flour”). Although 30 nutrients were removed, only five were replaced – the five that are listed on the label. So while the label might look similar, don’t be fooled, whole grains are way more nutritious than refined.
No Big Deal Changes: If you’re thinking that whole grains don’t taste as good, it’s time for a new taste test – these products have improved greatly over the years. Here are some “no big deal” ideas of things to try:
- Try different whole wheat breads. Even I will admit, some are really dry and tasteless. I like Thomas Whole Wheat English Muffins and Arnold’s 100% Whole Wheat bread. Don’t give up – find a brand you like.
- Eat more oats. Don’t like oatmeal? Mix them into your fruit smoothie or make your own granola (my recipe uses just four ingredients). Try refrigerator muesli – mix dry oats with yogurt at night for a creamy breakfast dish the next morning (you can also mix in dry fruit and nuts). One of my dietitian friends shared this recipe for a donut using oats and oat flour. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m gonna.
- Select whole grain pasta and rice. I haven’t been able to find any whole wheat angel hair pasta nests, so I still buy the white version…but all my other pasta choices are 100% whole wheat. And, they’re good. I love the Red Lentil pasta I found at Costco, too.
- Cook and bake with 50/50 white/whole grain flour. If you’re not ready yet for the full taste of 100% whole wheat products, try replacing your white flour with a bit of whole wheat flour – and then keep upping it. Sure it’s going to behave differently in a white cake, but the difference is less noticeable in pancakes and chocolate chip cookies.
- Eat more legumes. Legumes (or pulses) are a great source of protein and fiber to fill us up. They’re naturally low in fat so it will help reducing saturated fat. I often opt for the convenience of canned beans, but to reduce sodium you may want to choose a lower sodium version or give it a quick rinse under running water. I love black beans with my breakfast eggs. Add chick peas to your salad. Bush’s offers a great-tasting recipe for White Bean Chicken Chili on the back of their white bean cans. There’s even a popular black bean brownie recipe. Have you tried Beanitos chips? These chips made from beans are delicious. Where else can you use beans in the food you already serve?
- Indulge in popcorn. I love popcorn and I make it the old-fashioned way, cooking it slowly in an oiled pan. For snack lovers, this switch is a no-brainer. For 150 calories you can have one of those tiny bags of chips – or 3-5 cups of popcorn (portion size depends on how much oil you add)!
Dr. Jo® Lichten is a PhD nutritionist and registered dietitian. As a frequent keynote speaker for companies and conventions, she inspires busy people to stay healthy, sane, and productive. Jo is the author of several books including REBOOT – how to power up your energy, focus, and productivity. When she’s not traveling she and her husband enjoy kayaking, biking, and surfing.