If you’ve been following along you knew this one was coming. I’ve been trying to ease everyone into the “real food” mini-pledges by holding off on the harder ones, but the time has come! Even though this next pledge might be a bit challenging for some I am really excited about the learning opportunities that it will bring. In my opinion whole grains are one of the most confusing and hard-to-find food products in the supermarket. From misleading buzz words like “multi-grain” and “wheat” to health-claims on the front of food packages that aren’t backed up by the ingredient list, it sure is treacherous out there.
So here is next week’s mini-pledge that officially starts on Monday:
Mini-Pledge Week 7: All grains consumed must be 100% whole-grain.
First of all, let’s discuss why we should even care about eating whole-grains in the first place. For the most part all grains (wheat, corn, barley, rice, etc.) consist of 3 parts: the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran and especially the germ are where you’ll find most of the grain’s nutritional value. When a grain is highly refined into a product like white flour or white rice both of the most nutritional parts are removed leaving you with only the endosperm. According to Michael Pollan the germ contributes “some of the most valuable nutrients to the flour, including much of its protein, folic acid, and other B vitamins”, and the endosperm is basically a “big packet of starch and protein” that is high in calories and low in nutrients (similar to sugar).
So to make up for the loss of the nutrition-rich bran and germ, refined grains are often “enriched” or “fortified” with the vitamins that are thought to be lost. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather just eat the vitamins and nutrients that nature intended for me to eat rather than some copycat concoction that food scientists invented in a lab somewhere…not that nature could successfully be copied in the first place. Plus studies have shown that those who eat the real thing experience many more health benefits over eating the “enriched” version, no matter how nutritious they may appear by looking at the package’s nutrient list.
Some may be wondering why products like white flour were ever manufactured in the first place if the whole-grain version is far superior. First of all, when the key nutrients are stripped away from the flour it ends up having a much longer shelf life. Bugs are also after those nutrients, therefore they don’t have as much interest in the refined grains. And unlike the whole-wheat version, white flour does not have to be refrigerated to prevent it from going rancid. So yes, if you weren’t already aware you must keep your nutrient-dense whole-wheat flour in the fridge or freezer!
Here are some tips, recipes, and resources to help you find and eat whole-grain food products during the “real food” mini-pledge next week:
- If the front of a food package says it contains “whole-grains” or “whole-wheat” don’t be fooled…always verify by reading the ingredient label to see what a product is really made of. Packages often advertise that a product contains whole-grains even if it is only 20% whole-grain.
- If the ingredient list on a product contains any portion of “wheat” or “rice” then it is not 100% whole-grain. White flour is still technically made from the wheat plant (a refined version) so it is often labeled as “wheat.” It must say something like “whole-wheat” or “brown rice” to be a whole grain ingredient.
- Whether you are shopping at a supermarket or eating at a restaurant, most food products that are labeled as whole-grain are rarely 100% whole-grain. They often contain some percentage of refined grains as well.
- Since it is so hard to find 100% whole-grain foods it is best to avoid grains all together when you are out to eat at a restaurant (unless you can see the ingredient list yourself). Servers and other restaurant employees are often misinformed and will tell you the bread is “100% whole grain” when it is not.
- If a product is labeled as “multi-grain” it by no means guarantees those grains are whole-grains. It could be a bunch of different refined grains mixed together. Again, you must read the ingredient list to know for sure what’s in a food product.
- Finding good 100% whole-wheat sandwich bread is one of the biggest whole-grain challenges of them all. Some stores (like Earth Fare) bring in freshly made bread products from a local bakery. Other stores have a few decent options in their freezer section. Your best bet is to find a local bakery that makes their dough fresh daily (unlike grocery store bakeries that typically bake pre-mixed dough) or make it yourself!
100% Whole-Grain Recipes and Meal Ideas (for a complete list visit the “Recipes & Resources” tab)
- Granola cereal/bars
- Whole-wheat pancakes
- Whole-wheat crepes
- Whole-wheat waffles
- Pan-fried whole-wheat matzo
- Whole-wheat French toast
- Whole-wheat muffins
- Whole-wheat popovers
- Whole-wheat zucchini bread
- Whole-wheat pumpkin bread
- Easy cheesy crackers
- Whole-wheat biscuits (original or buttermilk/cheese)
- Farmer’s market stir fry with brown rice
- Quiche with a whole-wheat crust
- Homemade spaghetti sauce over store-bought whole-wheat pasta
- Whole-wheat pizza
- Homemade butternut squash whole-wheat ravioli
- Chicken enchiladas with whole-corn tortillas
- Jambalaya with brown rice
- Fajitas with whole-wheat tortillas
- Homemade sushi with brown rice
- The best store-bought products II (includes several whole-grain options)
- Whole food snacks for kids (includes some whole grain options)
- What should be in your sandwich bread?
- Understanding grains
- Whole Grains Council
To take the pledge: Please leave a comment below with the number of adults and kids in your household that will participate, and also share if you will do it for one meal, one day, or for the entire week. Put it in writing and make it official!