Fiber is essential to your health, and eating whole grains is one good way to get the fiber your body needs. If you’re planning to increase your fiber intake, do so gradually over several weeks to allow time for your body to adjust. You’ll need to make sure you drink plenty of fluids because they are necessary to process and eliminate undigested fiber. A good goal is try to drink 8 cups every day.
Fiber is found in whole grain foods so it’s a good idea to try whole grain food especially in place of refined products. For example replace brown rice with white rice, or whole-grain pasta with regular pasta. Try to include at least 3 servings per day of whole grain foods.
How Much Fiber You Need
- The American Dietetic Association recommends 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day or per individual tolerance.
- The Harvard School of Medicine recommends > 20 grams per day for women and > 30 grams a day for men.
Read Food Labels
Don’t be fooled by food companies who label products with names such as “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “cracked wheat,” “bran,” and even “wheat bread.” These products are usually not whole grain. The brown color often comes from coloring agents, such as caramel coloring or molasses, to give the appearance of a whole grain product.
- Reading the nutrition food label is the only definite way to know what you are buying. Choose products that list as a first ingredient “whole wheat,” “whole grain,” “brown rice,” “bulgur,” “whole grain corn,” “whole oats,” or “whole rye”.
- Foods with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving are considered excellent sources. Foods with 2 to 3 grams of fiber per serving are considered good sources.
- Look for the “whole grain stamp” on the package of whole grain foods. If the stamp reads “100 percent,” all the grains within the product must be whole grain.
A Grain’s Anatomy
Whole grains contain fiber and other nutrients such as Vitamin E, B Complex Vitamins, selenium, potassium, and magnesium. Whole grains are also rich in healthy oils, plant enzymes, and phytochemicals – all of which play important roles in a healthy diet.
A whole grain is made up of three parts:
- Germ – The most nutrient-rich portion
- Kernel or endosperm – Makes up the bulk of the seed but contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals
- Bran – The fiber-rich outer layer
Whole Versus Refined
The difference between refined grains (such as refined wheat, white flour, and white rice) and whole grains (such as whole-wheat flour, barley, cornmeal, oats, and popcorn) is that a whole grain still contains the nutrient rich germ and the fiber rich bran. Refined grains go through a milling process that removes the bran and the germ, which eliminates most nutrients.
Examples of whole grains include:
- Whole wheat and whole wheat berries, whole wheat bulgur, whole wheat couscous, and spelt
- Brown rice
- Corn, whole cornmeal, polenta, and popcorn
- Oat groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats
- Whole rye
- Hulled barley
- Buckwheat, quinoa (“keen-wah”), and wild rice – even though these are not in the grain family of plants
Why Whole Grain Is Better
Research shows that there is a connection between eating whole grains and good health. Whole grains may protect against certain cancers, heart disease, constipation, diverticulosis, and possibly blood clots. It improves blood sugar control in diabetics. It may help with weight control and lowers cholesterol, especially the harmful cholesterol. With so many benefits, it makes sense to try to add more whole grain foods to your daily diet.