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Whole Grains for Healthy Kids

 

By Tara DelloIacono Thies, RD

By now you have probably heard the message that whole grains are healthier than refined grains. They contain more fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and minerals than their refined counterparts. Not only do whole grains offer a whole lot of benefits—including a lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and obesity—but they also taste good. In my opinion, they have more bite and flavor than their counterparts.

The Whole Package
All grains start life as "whole" grains. That’s because a whole grain is formed by the entire seed (or kernel) of the plant it comes from. This is true whether the plant is a wheat plant, a rice plant, or some other type of grain. The seed is made up of three main parts: the bran, which is the multilayered outer skin; the germ, which is the embryo of the plant; and the endosperm, which serves as the germ’s food supply. Together, these deliver a healthy combination of nutrients, including antioxidants, B vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and even a little unsaturated fat when served up in breads, pastas, cereals, and other types of food. Refining, on the other hand, removes the bran and the germ, leaving the starchy endosperm behind. Refined grains may offer a smoother texture, but they do so at a price: about 25 percent of the grain’s protein is lost, as are key nutrients and hunger-curbing fiber. While food processors add back, or "enrich," some of the vitamins and minerals lost during refining, it’s always more nutritious to consume grains in their whole form.

Hunting Down Whole Grains
The 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend three to five 16-gram servings of whole grains daily. That is a grand total of about 48–80 grams of whole grains each day. But according to the Whole Grains Council, more than 40 percent of Americans never eat any whole grains at all! Maybe that’s because whole grains currently make up only about 10–15 percent of the grains found on supermarket shelves.

Parents don’t have time to play whole grains detective in the grocery store, especially when their kids are "helping" do the shopping. They need to be able to identify whole grains quickly. Today, many packaged foods containing whole grains are proud of it and will tell you right on the front of the package. You can also look for popular whole grain ingredients like rolled oats, barley, bulgur, whole wheat, or quinoa to be listed on the back of the package Remember, 16 grams equals one serving, so if you can obtain half to one whole serving in one snack food, you are on the right track for a healthier snack option.

And now for the million-dollar question: How do you get your kiddos to embrace oatmeal, whole-grain pasta, and whole-wheat bread? Experiment with different things and don’t be afraid to add a touch of sugar. A little can go a long way in getting the nutrients past the scrutinizing taste buds. Also, in my house, I find if I don’t mention it and just serve it, it will usually go over without a hitch. If they won’t eat it, simply keep trying. It is said that it takes up to 14 introductions before kids may accept new foods.

 
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