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Better Health with Whole Grains

From the Show: Eat Right Radio
Summary: Eating whole grains is like adding health insurance to your life.
Air Date: 9/8/14
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Kim Larson, RDN
Larson Kim 0852webKim Larson is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and founder of Total Health, a nutrition consulting company specializing in nutrition, fitness and health coaching for individuals, athletes and teams. Larson conducts personal nutrition coaching for corporations, as well as industry consulting work on topics related to nutrition, food and health. She speaks to audiences including consumer groups, sports teams and organizations, corporate wellness programs, community programs, the fitness industry and other health care professionals.

Learn more about Kim Larson
Better Health with Whole Grains
What if someone told you that eating a certain group of foods every day would help prevent you from getting heart disease, Type-II diabetes, some types of cancer and even from becoming overweight or obese?

This group of foods can also promote a healthy digestive tract and colon and boost your immune system. Would you choose to eat these foods? Do you know which food category fits this description?

Whole grains.

Eating whole grains is like adding health insurance to your life. Yet, only 10% of Americans eat the recommended minimum three servings a day.

Putting whole grains on your plate every day is important because they add powerful nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help your body look good, stay healthy and prevent disease.

They are a delicious addition that will help you achieve optimal nutrition.

Listen in as dietician Kim Larson shares the benefits of whole grains and how you can start incorporating them into your diet.

Melanie Cole (Host): What if someone told you that eating a certain type of foods every day would prevent you from getting heart disease, type II diabetes, some types of cancer and even from becoming overweight or obese? My guest today is Kim Larson. She’s a board certified specialist in Sports Dietetics and founder of Total Health and Nutrition Consulting Company, specializing in nutrition, fitness, health, and health coaching for individuals, athletes, and teams. Welcome to the show, Kim. Is there such a food out there?

Kim Larson (Guest): Yes, there is. I don't know how many people guessed it, but the food group is whole grains.

Melanie: Tell us about whole grains because we hear the word “grains,” we think of carbohydrates, everybody runs away, and they’re not sure exactly what that means.

Kim: Right. Well, there are so many reasons to eat more whole grains, and the biggest one, as you’ve just said, is that they’re a healthy carbohydrate. They’re a high-quality carbohydrate, and they’re also delicious. They add lots of flavor and texture and variety and interest to our diet. They’re very versatile. You can use them as a side dish, like a pilaf. You can mix them in salads and soups and stews and casseroles. And they’re a very easy swap for those refined starches, like white rice or pasta. And they give us a long-lasting energy because they are much more slowly digested than the refined carbs. So when we have people to avoid carbs, we’re really talking not about whole grains. We’re talking about refined starches that are not a whole grain.

Melanie: Give us some examples of whole grains that we can eat.

Kim: Well, the first thing we have to define is what is a whole grain and how do we find it. A whole grain contains the entire grain kernel, which includes the germ, the endosperm, and the bran outer layer. And so, it’s really important to identify the whole grain by looking on the label of food products when you’re shopping or before you put them into your cart. You want to make sure that it says whole wheat on the label and that first ingredient says whole wheat. Now, there’s a lot of other terms that are used on food products, and one is, say 100 percent wheat bread or seven-grain or multigrain, or it might even say wheat flower or cracked wheat. But those terms are very misleading because those are not whole grains. So the first thing we have to do is get to the right type of whole grains, because when we mill flour, we refine it, and it strips away half of the B vitamins, about 90 percent of the vitamin E and all of the fiber in the grain. We want to choose the healthiest grain by choosing a whole grain.

Melanie: So, some examples would be?

Kim: Some examples would be, and you might have heard some of the ancient grains that are becoming very trendy and popular now: quinoa, whole wheat, so that would include whole wheat breads and cereals, whole grain corn, whole oats, like oatmeal, brown rice, barley, faro, spelt, bulgur is another one. And some of these might be new to people, but some of them are really the tried and true old types of grains that we used to fall back on, like brown rice.

Melanie: So, refined grain products are usually enriched, Kim. Are whole grains products enriched as well?

Kim: Well, they don't need to be enriched because we’re getting all of that grain kernel. We’re getting all of the nutrition when you choose a whole grain. Refined products actually have to be fortified. Some of those B vitamins are added back in because those are the ones that are stripped away in the milling process, but we never add back in the grain. And we also miss out on the powerful phytonutrients that milling of flour takes out. Refined flours don't have all of the health components that a whole grain would.

Melanie: Now, Kim, I agree with you. Reading labels is of the utmost important. People see whole wheat bread or white whole wheat bread. Is that a whole grain bread?

Kim: It is a whole grain bread. There are different types of wheat, and it’s really nice now that we have all these different varieties of wheat and grains to choose from, so you could start out by choosing a white wheat for your kids. It’s a little bit softer wheat, but it’s also a whole grain, and you can kind of ease people into a little bit different taste and texture in the whole grains by using some of these different types of varieties of wheat available.

Melanie: You mentioned oatmeal, and oatmeal comes in a few different kinds. There’s instant oatmeal and there’s regular oats and then there’s steel cut. Is there a difference? If we want to really include these whole grains in our breakfast, what do we do there?

Kim: Right. That’s a very good question, and I think there’s a lot of confusion out there on this question. All oats are healthy and they have the same nutritional profile. Steel cut oats and instant oats have many of the same vitamins and minerals and iron and trace minerals in it. But the difference is that instant oatmeal has been processed more, so you’re going to get a little bit less fiber. But they’re still a good choice for breakfast. The best choice is the one that you like and that you like to eat and that you’ll eat every day. In terms of cold cereals, I like to recommend people, look on the label and look for a whole grain cereal that has at least five grams of fiber per serving. That’s the key for trying to get more fiber and whole grains into cereals, and it’s a great time at breakfast to do that.

Melanie: What about pasta? You mentioned whole wheat and there’s whole wheat pastas out there now. They’re a little bit more gritty, and as you say, they have a little bit more fiber. I like them better, but not everybody does. So, what about whole wheat pasta? Is “pasta” the word we’re afraid of?

Kim: Well, I think that yes, there are lots of different types of pastas out there. There’s even brown rice pasta. And so, they’re all a better choice than the regular white pasta. A good way to start getting used to that little bit nuttier flavor, a little bit more texture is to maybe add in to your white pasta about half and try to just add in that flavor and texture and over time, people will get used to it. It still is a healthy choice, but certainly, all the other grains that are out there would be a great swap instead of white pasta.

Melanie: Now, giving those whole grains into our children, so we’ve talked about the pasta and we’ve talked about the breakfast cereals, looking for that on the label and oatmeal. How else, because there’s different kinds of granola bars and bars and things out on the market that say “includes whole grains.” How do we get these whole grains into our children, and how much should we all be eating every day?

Kim: Well, that’s also a good question. The best way to get kids to eat whole grains is to start them early, so making sure that you’re combining whole grains with some familiar foods you might eat in your family, like using whole wheat spaghetti noodles, maybe making French toast with whole wheat bread, using a whole wheat pita bread for making individual pizzas with kids. Making it fun for them and getting them used to the texture is another great way to start early with kids. And for adults, men and women, it’s very difficult for us to get our target amounts of fiber every day without whole grains because they’re such a good source of fiber. Men need about 35 grams of fiber a day, and women, about 25. And most of us do not get that right now. So any way that you can begin to flap out white rice and white pasta, white bread for the whole wheat varieties, that is going to be your best way to get additional fiber into your diet.

Melanie: In just the last minute, Kim, give us your best advice for getting whole grains into our diet, these healthy grains, and how much we should have.

Kim: Well, most of us need about five to eight servings of grains a day. Of course, that’s based on your age or sex, your physical activity, but the dietary guidelines want us to get at least half of those servings as whole grains, at least three servings a day because we know that it helps us maintain our weight. In fact, it helps us lose weight and prevent weight gain because that fiber included in the whole grains really fills us up, gives us that long-lasting energy, and is digested a lot more slowly. My best advice is to use the shortcuts and make it easy and convenient to use those grains by pre-soaking them or make a big batch of grains so that you can eat off them for three, four, or five days. And then, look for the quick cooking grains that are available today in the grocery store. They’re either cooked briefly or some of them are parboiled. So they really don't take much time at all. Instead, swapping those out for some other common side dishes that you’re serving in family meals.

Melanie: Thank you so much, Kim Larson. You’re listening to Eat Right Radio with our great friends from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, you can go to, that’s This is Melanie Cole. Have a great day.