Processed food lacks whole grains

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— Our ancestors probably consumed more fiber than we do today. Years ago, grain mills removed only the inedible parts of the grain. The bran and germ that contain the fiber and essential nutrients remained. Whole grains were the only grains people knew.

Technology has resulted in refined grains, which short-change people on many of the nutrients and fiber they need. Today, the recommended amount of daily fiber intake is 20 to 35 grams. Unfortunately, the average American consumes only about 11 grams of fiber per day.

According to Pam Wooster, R.D., a dietitian at Yampa Valley Medical Center, fiber supports intestinal health. "Fiber is your colon brush that helps decrease potentially harmful substances from coming into contact with the intestinal wall," she said. "This decreases the risk of cancer."

Another benefit of fiber-rich foods is that they keep people trim and they're low in fat and calories, Wooster added.

Whole grains are good for your heart and metabolism. They also can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Studies have found that men and women who eat at least three servings of whole grains per day are healthier and live longer lives.

Whole grain means the entire seed of the plant. The seed contains three major parts. The bran or outer skin contains antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber. The germ has many B vitamins plus protein. The endosperm is high in starch and carbohydrates.

The word "whole" on the label is an indication that whole grains have been used. Unless the label says 100 percent whole grain, it is doubtful how much has actually been used. For example, if we buy bread that's labeled multi-grain it can actually be made with refined wheat, millet and barley, which is an interesting combination but not whole grain.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, recommend that we get three to six servings a day of whole grains. Here are some excellent sources:

For more information about nutrition, including fiber and whole grains, visit the Community Health Resource Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center, a free lending library.

Oats are nearly always whole.

Most cereals, either hot or cold, are good sources of whole grain.

Rye bread has a large quantity of fiber, making it an even better choice than wheat bread; it is also good for anyone trying to lose weight.

Corn on the cob, polenta or corn tortillas are good whole grain sources.

Popcorn is a healthy snack as long as it's not smothered in oil, butter or salt.

Experiment by substituting whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of any pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes.

Remember, the proof is often in the label. So next time you are at the grocery store, take a moment to read and understand what it is that you're buying. Keep in mind that foods labeled with words "multi-grain," or "bran" are usually not whole-grain products.

Wooster recommends looking for products that name one of the following whole-grain ingredients first on the label: brown rice, bulgur, graham flour, oatmeal, whole grain corn, whole oats, whole rye, whole wheat or wild rice.

Mindy Fontaine is public relations coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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