Try whole grains like bulgur and kamut as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Try whole grains like bulgur and kamut as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Grains are an important part of a balanced diet. But not all grains are created equal – in fact, some grains are "created" while others are in a more natural state and full of nutrients. 

Here's what you need to know about grains to incorporate them in a healthy way into your diet:

Whole grains
These grains contain the entire grain kernel, meaning they have not had their germ, endosperm and bran removed from the milling process. This is important because the bran and germ are good sources of selenium, magnesium, potassium and fiber – all important for the body. Whole grains can be single grains like brown rice, or things like buckwheat flour. Here are some more whole grains:

  • Whole wheat bread, crackers, pasta, tortillas, etc.
  • Rolled oats
  • Bulgur
  • Millet
  • Popcorn,
  • Whole grain cornmeal
  • Sorghum
  • Quinoa
  • Barley

Refined grains
In contrast, refined grains are milled – a process that removes the germ, bran and endosperm. Grains are refined to make them last longer and give them a finer texture. However, milling the grains takes away fiber and other important nutrients. Here are some products typically (but not always) made from refined grains:

  • Pasta
  • Crackers
  • Couscous
  • Cornbread
  • Pretzels
  • Pitas
  • White bread, buns and rolls (typically made with bleached flour)
  • White rice
  • Corn flakes and other cereals 

Enriched grains
Another type of grains – enriched – are processed as refined grains. But during the processing, some of the nutrients are added back in, including B vitamins. Other milled grains are enriched with folic acid and iron, which are very important for the body. In the U.S., the majority of cereals are enriched with folic acid and fiber because they are so critical to human health. The problem with enriched grains is that the fiber lost during the milling process is not added back to the grains.

Needless to say, whole grains are the healthiest, but the USDA points out that, while most Americans get enough grains each day, not many are whole grains. The USDA recommends that Americans work to include whole grains in at least half of the amount of grains they eat each day.

If you'd like to include more whole grains in your diet, look for products with these tasty grains, many of which have been grown for thousands of years and are making a recent resurgence:

  • Kamut: A type of wheat that has iron, protein and high amounts of B vitamins
  • Polenta: A stone ground cornmeal product that is high in vitamin A and is popular in Northern Italian cuisine
  • Millet: An ancient seed that is high in magnesium, which is good for bones and muscles
  • Barley: It is packed with selenium, which boosts the immune system
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