On a cool fall morning what do many people, young and old alike turn to for breakfast? Oatmeal! Oatmeal is a hearty and healthy choice for breakfast - add a few walnuts and pieces of fruit, and you have several of the food groups covered.
The soluble fiber in oatmeal can have many positive health benefits. Soluble fiber can lower the risk for coronary heart disease, it can help control postprandial blood glucose levels, and it may help lower cholesterol.
In 1997, the FDA issued a ruling that oat products that contained at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber could list that health claim on their packaging. This was a boon to the "oat" business, and many people nowadays enjoy the taste of oatmeal, knowing that they made a healthy choice as well.
The FDA similarly approved a request from the National Barley Foods Council to allow them to have health claims on barley products that contain at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per serving. One problem with using barley, however, was that it took a while to cook it so that it was soft enough to be eaten. There is now an "instant" version of barley that helps alleviate the time it takes to cook.
I recently saw another "instant" version of a whole grain rice blend. This rice product contained four different types of rice (brown rice, red rice, wild rice and quinoa) and is ready in 10 minutes. I'll have to give that a try!
Slowly but surely it seems that more whole grain products are becoming available and are becoming easier to use and prepare. So what is so great about whole grains? Many studies have demonstrated a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers with a high whole grain intake. It takes only three servings of whole grains per day for a whopping 30 percent lower risk of heart disease.
Whole grains include all three parts of the kernel: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Most of the heart protective nutrients are found in the bran and germ layers. These nutrient rich layers are removed during the processing of white flour.
Product labels can be deceiving. Color is not a criteria for whole grain bread; just because it's brown does not mean that it is whole grain. Many "wheat" breads sold in the grocery stores are made from white flour with caramel food coloring added. Look for whole wheat, cracked wheat, whole oats, or whole grain as the first ingredient on the label.
Oatmeal, quinoa, brown and wild rice, barley, amaranth, millet or triticale - there are lots of delicious whole grains to experiment with. And, of course, there is an old favorite - popcorn, which is also considered a whole grain. That is a popular whole grain that many people enjoy - just go easy on the butter and salt.
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.