News headlines have recently proclaimed that “butter is back” and that “milk fat may be good for you.”
At the same time, best-selling book titles shout about grain brains and wheat bellies — blaming breads, cereals and pasta for every health problem in the United States. For the 30 years that I have practiced nutrition, the fat-carb pendulum has swung back and forth — from today’s demonization of sugar and all carbohydrates to insisting that any fat is bad, bad, bad.
In fact, neither restrictive end of the nutrition spectrum — fat-free or carb-free — makes sense, and neither is supported by research. Humans can function and thrive on moderate amounts of carbohydrate, protein and fat in a variety of combinations. No food group has to be eliminated in a healthy eating style. Here are few other fundamental facts about grains and your health:
While gluten-free diets are all the rage these days — for adults, for kids and now, based on TV ads, even for pets — gluten-free foods are only necessary and helpful when people have celiac disease and gluten intolerance. There is no proof that they can help with weight loss or any other medical conditions.
Just having a gluten-free label does not guarantee that a food is “healthy” or even nutritious. Gluten-free candy bars are candy bars and gluten-free chips are chips. Your best bet for gluten-free foods are whole grains that do not contain gluten, like brown rice, corn, oats, teff, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice.
One of the most important nutrients found in whole grains is fiber, which keeps your entire intestinal tract running smoothly. Fiber benefits go far beyond bowel function. It can help reduce blood cholesterol, normalize blood sugar levels, and aid in weight management, since high-fiber foods help increase satisfaction.
Most Americans — 9 of 10 — do not get enough dietary fiber, which is why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has named fiber as one of the four nutrients of concern. Smart fiber choices include whole grains, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
Here are four tasty ways to help you meet the MyPlate recommendation to fill a quarter of your plate with grains and make at least half of your grains whole.
1. Enjoy grains regularly: Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel for moving, breathing, thinking and learning. Your heart, lungs, brain and nervous system need a regular supply of nutrient-rich carbs to function properly. Enjoy some carbs, like whole grains, at every meal and snack.
2. Choose grains carefully: Use Nutrition Facts label to check fiber: Good sources have 10 to 19 percent of Daily Value (2.50 to 4.75 grams) per serving, and excellent sources have more than 20 percent DV (5.0 grams) per serving. Look for a whole grain (like whole wheat or whole oats) as the first ingredient.
3. Pick grains tastefully: Be adventurous with grains — whether you are going gluten-free with quinoa and teff, or trying new recipes for barley and rye. Whole grains make great additions to baked goods, and they are also delicious as hot side dishes (rice-veggie pilaf) and as cold salads (quinoa with black beans salad)
4. Eat grains mindfully: One of the claims about carbs is that they are “addictive.” While there is plenty of research in this area, there are no definitive answers. Most experts agree that being overly restrictive is likely to cause overeating at some point. Eating slowly and savoring is a much better long-term strategy.
During Shape Up Montana, I’ll be sharing tips for every time of day and eating occasion — breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I’ll explore smart food choices and new research on all MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.gov) food groups. Stay tuned and discover just how easy it can be to fuel yourself well.