Learn About the Five Food Groups with Olivia Kinkade, Part 3: Grains

Photo of Olivia Kinkade, clinical nutrition department team member at United Hospital Center.

Recommended by Olivia Kinkade, clinical nutrition department team member at United Hospital Center.

We are embarking upon a food group journey in recognition of National Nutrition Awareness Month! Join us to discover interesting details on the five main food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy. Our adventure continues with the grains food group.

What foods are in the grains group?

The grains food group comprises food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain. You may know and love popular grain items, including bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, grits, tortilla, popcorn, rice, and oatmeal.

The grains food group is categorized into two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. How do the subgroups differ? Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel, making up products like whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, whole-grain cornmeal, and brown rice. Refined grains go through a process called “milling” that removes bran and germ, which gives the grains a more refined texture and longer shelf life. This process, however, removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins from refined grain products, like white flour, corn grits, white bread, and white rice.

Check the ingredient list on refined grain products to ensure the word “enriched” is included in the grain name – this will tell you that certain nutrients have been added back into the food. Some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains. Only foods made with 100% whole grains are considered whole-grain foods.

Why should I eat grains, especially whole grains?

Including grains, especially whole grains, in your diet provides your body with various health benefits, such as a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Eating grains provides your body with nutrients vital for health and maintenance.

Discover the following nutritional benefits of grains:

  • Grains offer many nutrients, like complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, B vitamins, and minerals, like iron, magnesium, and selenium.
  • Dietary fiber found in whole grains may help lower blood cholesterol levels and may lower the risk of heart disease. Fiber helps your body in other ways as well – it is important for proper bowel function!
  • The B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin play a role in metabolism—as these help the body release energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates. B vitamins are also essential for a healthy nervous system. Many refined grains are enriched with these B vitamins.
  • Iron helps the body carry oxygen in the blood. Fortified whole and refined grain products, like ready-to-eat cereals, are significant sources of iron in American diets. Many teenage girls and women in their childbearing years have iron-deficiency anemia and should look to add additional sources of iron in their diets, potentially in certain foods.
  • Whole grains are sources of magnesium and selenium. Magnesium is a mineral used in building bones and replacing energy from muscles. Selenium protects cells from oxidation and is also important for a healthy immune system.

Should a certain amount of grains be consumed daily? What counts as an ounce-equivalent of grains?

Our bodies are all unique. The serving of grain you should include in your diet depends on your age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity. Most Americans eat enough total grain foods, but few eat enough whole grains. At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. Breastfeeding and pregnant women also have different nutritional grain intake needs.

In general, 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal can be considered 1 ounce-equivalent from the grains group.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the grains food group! Join us here at UHCHouseCall.com to discover more about the remaining four food groups.

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