Despite the recent popularity of several ancient grains (hello, quinoa!), the grain group often gets a bum rap. The primary target of many weight loss diets, grains are often mentioned with disdain. Unfortunately, when we approach these foods with this mindset, we forget all the great benefits they provide and what grains can offer our bodies.
What foods are considered grains?
According to the USDA, any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain is considered a grain product. This means foods like popcorn, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, pasta, and bread are proud members of this group.
The importance of adding grains to your plate
Grains play an important role in most healthy meal plans. When you are building your mealtime plate, they should be a food group you consider incorporating each time. Why? Here are five great reasons to keep grains consistent in your meals:
They provide essential nutrients. You may know that grains are a source of carbohydrates, but did you also know that they are a source of fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and selenium too? Although the amount of nutrients present can vary depending on the type of grain you serve, all these nutrients are important for your body to work the way it should.
They can create a more satisfying meal experience. Incorporating grains into your meal may help make what you eat more satisfying, especially if the grains you eat are providing a healthy dose of fiber. Fiber is a nutrient that contributes to feelings of appropriate fullness after a meal. By eating meals that satisfy, you should be more comfortable between meals as well.
They add variety to your plate. The more nutrient foods you can work into your meal plan, the better! Having a variety of food options to choose from at meal time ensures you get both a wide variety of nutrients and enjoy your meals more because they aren’t always the same.
They help ensure your body and mind have the fuel it needs to function daily. Although grain foods aren’t the only ones providing carbohydrates, they do provide a substantial amount to your meal plan. Carbohydrates are important and are one of the three energy providing nutrients you’ll find in foods.
If you do not eat enough carbohydrates each day, it’s difficult to meet the energy needs of your body and brain. This causes your body to use “reserved” protein from your muscles, followed by fat from your body’s stores. Since neither of these energy sources are our bodies preferred method of energy, prolonged reliance on these back-up systems can cause problems. In fact, not getting enough carbohydrates consistently can cause fatigue, muscle cramps, muscle loss, poor mental function, depression, anxiety, and/or constipation.
They provide body protection. In addition to the essential nutrients found in grains, substances called phytonutrients are also found in each bite. These substances aren’t necessarily needed to keep you alive, but have been shown to possibly prevent disease and help your body work as it should.
For most individuals, adding two 1 ounce servings of grains at each meal is a good goal to shoot for. Or in other words, look to add approximately 2 slices of bread, 2 cups of ready-to-eat cereal, or a cup of cooked rice or pasta to your plate as each of those would equal two 1 ounce servings.
Although I typically recommend choosing whole grain options as much as possible, keep in mind that even refined grains are not devoid of all nutrition. They can fit into your meal plan too, just be realistic with what your body needs.