I regularly lead Lunch & Learn workshops for local businesses in the area. Last week, while waiting for my weight management workshop to begin, I was browsing through the offerings at the cafe located inside the building. Among the offerings in the cafe was a shelf housing various kinds of General Mills cereals. On the shelf next to the cereals was a marketing banner advertising these GM cereals to be a “great source of whole grains.” Intrigued, I took a closer look. Much to my horror, amongst the Cheerios and Raisin Bran were also Lucky Charms, Trix, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Was I missing something? When did Lucky Charms become a healthy cereal option? Do my clients think that Trix are a good source of whole grains? To clear up the confusion, let’s look at 1) what it actually means to call a grain “whole” 2) examples of whole grains and 3) the benefits of eating whole grains.
What are whole grains? Whole grains are considered “whole” because they contain all of the edible parts of a grain: the inner germ, the middle endosperm and the outer bran covering. This makes them rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and a multitude of disease-fighting substances. By contrast, refined grains have most of their germ and bran removed during processing, resulting in the depletion of most anything nutritious.
Examples of whole grains: whole wheat berries, whole wheat bulger, whole wheat couscous, kamut, spelt, brown rice (including quick cooking brown rice), corn, whole cornmeal, popcorn, oat groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats (including quick cooking and instant oatmeal), whole rye, hulled barley (pot, scotch and pearled barley usually have most of their bran removed), triticale, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice, and amaranth.
Why eat them? Whole grains contain more than just fiber. Eating whole-grain regularly can protect you from heart disease, lower your cholesterol, prevent certain cancers, reduce your risk of diabetes, promote digestive health and help you keep weight off.
What to look for? The best way to determine if a food is a good source of whole grain is not to look at the front of the box but to read the ingredients. The first ingredient will either be one that is stated above or it will say 100% whole wheat. You can also tell because whole grains are rich in fiber and protein and this will be reflected on the Nutrition Facts Panel (look for at least 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per serving). However, it is important to look at the other ingredients as well. It does not help you to consume whole grains that are full of saturated fat, trans fat, high fructose corn syrup and/or other sugars.
That being said, let’s look at the ingredients in our Lucky Charms:
Whole Grain Oats, Marshmallows (Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Gelatin, Calcium Carbonate, Yellows 5&6, Blue 1, Red 40, Artificial Flavor), Sugar, Oat Flour, Corn Syrup, Corn Starch, Salt, added Vitamins and Minerals
Don’t be misled by label marketing, read ingredients and shop wisely!