Good health essentials: whole grains and fiber

by Hope Warshaw

The Washington Post

Do all whole grains contain dietary fiber? What are other sources of fiber?

These questions seem simple, but they’re not. Answering them, however, is important because they focus on two healthful eating goals: 1) Eat more whole grains and 2) Eat more dietary fiber.

Both are supported by research evidence. Eating sufficient whole grains, as part of a healthful eating plan, can protect against cardiovascular disease and help maintain a healthy body weight. Some research shows that eating enough whole grains can also reduce insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.

Research on dietary fiber shows that a sufficient amount can protect against cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and can promote digestive health.

About whole grains

Whole grains contain the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed — the bran, germ and endosperm. Oats and barley are whole grains. Whole-wheat flour is a whole-grain ingredient found in foods such as whole-wheat bread and pasta.

Whole grains are just one source of dietary fiber. Whole grains and foods that are made with whole-grain ingredients provide some dietary fiber, but the amounts vary widely. They also provide other essential nutrients. Barley and bulgur contain a good bit of fiber, while brown rice and quinoa contain minimal amounts. But they’re all healthful sources of whole grains.

According to the Whole Grains Council, the average American eats less than one serving of whole grains a day. More than 40 percent of Americans never eat whole grains. Surprising? Not when you consider that white bread, baked goods and pizza dough are made with refined flour. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making half your grains whole. That’s 48 grams per day.

About dietary fiber

Dietary fiber includes the portions of plant-based foods that are not digested plus beneficial fibers added by manufacturers. Our foods contain hundreds of various fibers — some help with digestion and regularity, others improve blood fats and others help with weight control. You need all types. Dietary fiber is a nutrient found in whole grains, legumes (beans and peas), fruits and vegetables. To eat enough fiber, get it from all food sources.

Most Americans get nowhere close to the 25 grams per day that is recommended for adults. No surprise! Most don’t eat nearly enough fruit, vegetables, legumes and, yes, whole grains with fiber.

Don’t translate the message to eat more whole grains and dietary fiber to mean “eat more.”

“You’ll hit your whole grain and fiber goals without excess calories if you swap and substitute,” says Carlene Thomas, a registered dietitian with the private practice Healthfully Ever After in Leesburg, Virgina.

To eat more whole grains:

• Get to know the whole grains and which ones contain lots of fiber.

Choose brown rice over white rice (even in restaurants) and whole-wheat over white pasta.

Select whole-grain (and high-fiber) cereals. For hot cereal, try oatmeal, oat bran or quinoa. With dry cereals, look for a whole-oat or whole-grain cereal that’s also high in fiber.

“Be adventurous — taste-test new-to-you whole grains in restaurants or at home: millet, amaranth, bulgur or quinoa.

Check food labels for the grams of whole grains per serving; look for phrases like “15 grams of whole grains per serving” or “100 percent whole grains.”

Select whole-grain bread, rolls or pizza crust. If there’s no claim on the label, check the ingredients. It needs to say whole-grain (name of grain), whole wheat, whole (grain) or stone-ground whole (grain).

To eat more dietary fiber:

• Educate yourself about the fiber content in foods by checking nutrition facts labels. For foods without a label, try looking them up with a food nutrient app. (For example, the Agriculture Department’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at ndb.nal.usda.gov and My Fitness Pal, which is available as a smartphone app or online at www.myfitnesspal.com.)

Learn the label lingo. A food can be marketed as a “good source of fiber” if a serving contains between 10 percent (2.5 grams) and 19 percent (5 grams) of the 25-grams-per-day recommendation, or an “excellent source of fiber” if a serving contains 20 percent (5 grams) or more.

Eat the amounts of fiber-containing foods — whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables — recommended in the Dietary Guidelines.

Eat 2 ½ cups each of fruit and vegetables per day — more if you’ve got the calories to spare. Start your day with fruit. Take a piece to work for lunch or for an afternoon snack. Make sure to include at least a cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner.

Eat more legumes — dried, frozen or canned. Use them in soups, omelets or casseroles or as a side dish. Thomas suggests making extras and tossing them on salads. Enjoy hummus or other bean-based dips. Cook up a bean-based meatless meal a night or two a week.

Warshaw, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, is the author of numerous books published by American Diabetes Association and the blog EatHealthyLiveWell found on her website, www.hopewarshaw.com.