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Whole grains are entirely better

Special to The Times

Americans have been urged to consume at least three servings daily of whole-grain foods. But if you’ve ever stood in a grocery aisle trying to figure out what products have whole grains and how much they contain, you’re not alone.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees food labels, provides no definition of “whole grain,” although FDA chief Lester M. Crawford recently told the American Assn. of Cereal Chemists’ annual meeting that the agency has made defining the term one of its priorities for the coming year.

In the meantime, to help cut through the nutritional fog, the Whole Grains Council has stepped in to issue stamps that now adorn more than 300 whole-grain products, with many more in the pipeline to receive them.

Developed by the council, a nonprofit consortium of chefs, industry scientists and the Boston-based Oldways Preservation Trust, the golden stamps mark three levels of whole-grain ingredients. Foods that contain at least half a serving of whole grains can display a “Good Source” stamp. Those that provide at least a full serving of whole grains are eligible for an “Excellent Source” stamp, and products that contain a full serving of whole grains and include only full grains are awarded a “100% Excellent Source” stamp.

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“We’re trying to help make consumers’ hands move to the right place on the shelves,” said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for Oldways and the Whole Grains Council.

That’s because the latest national nutritional survey shows that “42% of Americans never eat a whole grain,” said Eric Hentges, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Yet 3 ounces of whole grains -- equal to about three slices of whole-grain bread -- not only can help reduce the risk of such chronic conditions as diabetes and heart disease but might also help with weight maintenance, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Here’s what you need to know about increasing whole grains in your diet:

* Ease into them. Whole grains can be an acquired taste. So add a quarter cup of whole-grain cereal to your more refined cereal and slowly increase the percentage of whole-grain over several weeks while gradually reducing the amount of processed cereal. Feast on buckwheat or other whole-grain pancakes or waffles. Or make rice pilaf that is a mixture of white, brown or wild rice. Consider pasta salads that are made from both regular and whole-wheat pasta.

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* Look for whole-grain white bread. It sounds like a nutritional contradiction, but Sara Lee, Interstate Bakeries Corp. (maker of Wonder Bread), Mrs. Baird’s and a growing number of other bread makers are using winter white wheat to make whole-wheat white bread. It has the same nutritional punch as traditional whole wheat, but its milder flavor and color rival traditional white bread. Or make your own: King Arthur Flour has a white whole-wheat flour sold in grocery and specialty stores and on the Web.

* Sip your whole grains. Three new Frontier soups -- Iowa Open House Grain & Pasta Potage, Montana High Plains Wheat Berry Chili and Washington State Lentil Cracked Wheat -- are 100% whole grain. You can buy these mixes, which are low in sodium and have no MSG or other preservatives, online.

* Look for new opportunities to try whole grains. Vacations can be a good time to expand your culinary horizons. At Walt Disney World in Orlando, brown rice and seven-grain mixes were on the menu before the latest dietary guidelines were released. Joel Schaefer, manager of culinary development and special dietary needs for the resort, has since added sandwiches made with whole-grain breads.

“If visitors eat these foods in our restaurants, they learn more about them, and then they think, ‘Maybe I should have this when I get home,’ ” Schaefer said.

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* Snack on whole grains. Popcorn, granola bars, many cereal bars, tortilla chips, whole-wheat pretzels and some varieties of graham crackers are popular options.

At the University of Minnesota, researchers compared the palatability of pizzas made with whole-wheat flour, whole-wheat white flour and traditional processed white flour. Study participants, 600 first- to sixth-graders, consumed 75% of the pizza made with either whole-wheat white flour or refined white flour. But they ate just about 30% of the pizza made with regular whole-wheat dough.

Next step: a federally funded nine-month study to examine the best way to gradually introduce whole-wheat dinner rolls and hamburger buns made with whole wheat and with white whole wheat.


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