Grains play an important role to a healthy, balanced diet. It is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, and is packed with minerals and vitamins. However, not all grains are made equal. There are a few key ways to identify the healthier options.
The healthiest option is whole grains. They are unrefined and have not been milled or stripped of their nutrients. It also is a good source of fiber, magnesium, potassium, selenium and other important nutrients. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should, “Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.”
In order to meet this requirement, eat various breads, pastas and cereals. The market is loaded with tons of products that can become confusing. The first step to choosing the correct grains is by reading the nutrition label. As vegetarians and vegans, we should already be used to checking this before purchasing.
When we look at the nutrition label, the ingredients will appear in descending order based on volume. The most prevalent ingredient will be listed first. With that said, the first ingredient on the label should be whole grain. Also, look for breads that contain whole-wheat flour or 100 percent whole-wheat flour.
The ingredients should not include the following:
Enriched bleached flour
Stone-ground wheat flour
If the bread is brown and has wheat in the ingredients, this does not always mean it is a healthy, high-fiber, whole-grain selection.
Packages are loaded with marketing, which can become confusing for the consumers. Keep in mind there are misleading nutritional claims. It does not matter if the package reads five-grain, seven-grain or even 12-grain. It is only important if those grains are whole grains.
Marketing lingo that says things like “made with whole grain” or “100-percent natural” can also confuse people. Another thing to look for is long ingredient lists. If the list is long or include unfamiliar words, put it back on the shelf. Put it this way, the only ingredients to make bread is flour, water, salt and a dash of sugar (to activate the yeast).
Food companies often add in various additives to make the food taste better. However, this does not make the food healthier. In fact, all these extras are what makes it unhealthy. When a label includes hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fat and vegetable oil shortening, put it back.
These ingredients raise cholesterol levels and increase the chance of heart disease. Other ingredients to look out for are high-fructose corn syrup, honey and other sweeteners. These ingredients increase the calories and sugar content of the food. The best bread with healthy and natural ingredients do not have many additives.
Now that there is a better understanding of what not to choose, let us talk about what to look for. When shopping for bread, find a product that contains the following:
100 calories of less
At least 3g of fiber
225 mg of sodium or less per slice
First ingredient is 100 percent whole-wheat flour
Naturally, whole grains are low in fat and cholesterol free. They contain 10 to 15 percent protein. It also has lots of healthy fiber, antioxidants, minerals, resistant starches, vitamins, and phytochemicals.
When someone says leave grains out of their diet, think again. Studies have shown a diet rich in whole grains help prevent obesity and reduce heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.