The Good-Guyness of Grain


The idea that starches are fattening is a persistent myth. It’s a shame, because most Americans fall far short of the six to 11 daily servings of grain products recommended by nutritionists, instead choosing foods high in fat and protein.

“There are people who are still proud of the fact that they don’t eat much bread,” says Colleen Pierre of the American Dietetic Assn. "(Most are) unaware that cereal grains are important for their nutrition.” Grains are complex carbohydrates, which are high in fiber, low in fat and may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity.

Jayne Newmark, a Phoenix-based dietitian, says people are surprised when she says it’s fine to eat a sandwich when cutting calories. “I’d much rather see someone eat a turkey, tuna or lean roast-beef sandwich than a hamburger, cottage cheese and cling peach in heavy syrup,” says Newmark, referring to the classic high-fat, high-protein “diet plate.”

There are other misunderstandings when it comes to grains. A recent Gallup survey commissioned by the Wheat Foods Council found that 49% of respondents didn’t know that white bread was made from wheat, and a similar percentage thought oatmeal was a wheat product.


The Department of Agriculture recommends six to 11 servings of breads, cereals, pasta and rice per day, but estimates that Americans eat about half that amount. And the Gallup poll found that while most people were unaware of these guidelines, they thought six to 11 servings would be too much to eat.

Diane Odland, a nutritionist with the USDA’s Human Nutrition Information Service, said it’s simple to comply with this recommendation since “one serving” in the grain group can be a slice of bread, half a bun, bagel or English muffin, or an ounce of dry cereal, half a cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta, or three to four small crackers or two large crackers.

By eating a bowl of cereal and a slice of toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a cup of pasta and roll for dinner, someone could easily reach seven servings, she said. (The six-serving recommendation is for people who consume 1,600 calories per day, nine servings are for those who consume 2,200 calories daily, and 11 servings are appropriate for daily consumption of 2,800 calories.)

Here are other quick ways to load up on the grain group:


* Cold cereal--Sprinkle it on top of yogurt, use it as an ingredient when baking muffins or eat it dry as a before-bedtime, TV-watching or midafternoon snack. Leni Reed, a dietitian and editor of Supermarket Savvy newsletter, which evaluates new food products, recommends cereals that have two grams of fat or less per serving and that list a whole grain as the first ingredient.

* Breads--For added fiber, buy breads that say they are made from “whole wheat,” Reed says, not just “wheat,” which can mean it is made with white flour. Snack on a toasted bagel or English muffin spread with low-fat ricotta cheese and apple butter.

* Pasta--In tomato sauce, replace sausage or beef with chopped eggplant spread between layers of cooked orzo .

* Rice--In place of a huge steak and a side dish of rice, make the rice portion twice as big as the meat. At a Chinese restaurant, dump the whole bowl of rice on your plate, then spoon on the entree; you’ll have less entree and more rice.


* Bulgur--To leftover cooked bulgur wheat, add raisins, diced scallions and a squeeze of lemon. Tuck into whole-wheat pita bread that has been moistened with chutney.

* Barley--Combine with rice, pasta or corn in casseroles and salads, toss into soups such as tomato, mushroom or split pea, or use instead of rice in rice pudding.

* Oatmeal--Cookbook author Carl Jerome tops hot oatmeal with half a teaspoon of grated orange or lemon rind and a tablespoon of dried apricots or golden raisins.

* Corn--Make Southwestern griddle cakes by adding corn kernels to a pancake batter. Top with diced fruit.


* Crackers and cookies--Look for crackers made from whole grains and no or little added fat (less than two grams of fat per ounce), Reed says. Some no-fat choices include whole-wheat matzo , rice cakes or Scandinavian flat breads. As for cookies, try graham crackers, gingersnaps or animal crackers.