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IMA Wellness Blog

Make Your Healthy Diet Healthier with Whole Grains (Start with this Easy Recipe)

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois is an IMA member insurance company…

It isn’t news that whole grains offer more benefits for a healthy diet. Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains contain fiber. That means whole grain could help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent cancer, and keep you, um… regular.

But it might be news to you that just because a package says the product contains “cracked wheat” or 7-grain,” “multi-grain,” or even “bran” or “100 percent wheat,” that doesn’t mean it contains whole grains.

Companies often market less-than-whole grains as “healthy.” Don’t be fooled. The only way to know for sure is to look for the word “whole.”

If the package doesn’t say “whole grain” the grain is not whole. It’s refined. And refined grains are not part of a healthy diet, says Judith Kolish, a dietitian for Health Care Service Corp.

The Benefits of Whole Grain
Whole grains contain disease-fighting nutrients and antioxidants such as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, and iron, according to the Whole Grains Council. All are important parts of a healthy diet.

Studies cited by the council show that people who eat three servings of whole grains every day reduce their risk of heart disease by 25-36 percent, stroke by 37 percent, Type II diabetes by 21-27 percent, digestive system cancers by 21-43 percent, and hormone-related cancers by 10-40 percent.

What’s Whole and What’s Not?
A whole grain contains three parts:

  • Germ
  • Bran
  • Endosperm

When a grain is refined, it means it has been broken into parts. The germ and bran have been removed, leaving only the endosperm. The endosperm is the fluffiest part of grain, so using refined grains ensures food will be fluffier. That’s part of the reason white bread made with refined grains tends to be lighter and fluffier than wheat bread made with whole grains.

Removing the germ and bran, however, also removes most of the nutrients and fiber.

How Can You Know It’s Whole?
You can’t judge a whole grain product by its color, Kolish says.

“Brown doesn’t always mean whole grain. It might be brown from molasses,” she says.

There’s only one way to know for sure. Before buying a product, read the label. “Whole grain” should be the first ingredient listed. You might also find the word “whole” stamped on the product package. If you’re buying from a baker, even better! All you have to do is to ask whether the baker used whole grains in the product.

Whole grains come in many varieties. They include rice, corn, oats, rye, barley, and popcorn, in addition to wheat. The newest whole grain is quinoa (\ˈkēn-ˌwä, kē-ˈnō-ə\, pronounced keen-wah). And there are “ancient” whole grains such as farro (FAHR-oh, pronounced fair-o), which is an Ethiopian grain. (The refined version of farro is called “pearled.”)

Kolish and Allison Knott, a dietitian and wellness director for FLIK Hospitality Group, say it’s easy to add whole grains to your diet through recipes like this one:

Wild Rice, Dried Cranberry, Sunflower Seed Salad:


8 oz long grain wild rice, dry
1 qt. warm water
4 oz, low-sodium vegetable base
1 ¼ oz  roasted sunflower seeds
1 oz. scallions
2 oz. finely chopped red onion
2 oz. red bell peppers, diced
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

For Dressing:
½ oz. chopped Italian parsley
4 oz. dried cranberries
2 tbsp olive/canola oil 90/10 blend

In a sauce pan, combine vegetable base and water, bring to a boil. Add wild rice and simmer until rice is tender and stock has been absorbed, approximately 45 minutes. Chill to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit
Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, and parsley.
Place chilled cooked rice in a bowl. Add chopped green onions, red onion, peppers, sunflower seeds, cranberries, and dressing. Toss together and serve.

Yield: 10, ½ cup portions
191 cal
5g fat
1g sat fat
33g carb
5g protein
214 mg sodium


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