Who knew? Corn, the tiny kernel that most of the world calls maize (after the Spanish word maiz), is a bona fide whole grain – and yes, even the popped version counts. People who routinely snack on popcorn ingest a whopping 250 percent more whole grains and 22 percent more fiber compared to those who don’t eat this dieter’s delight. Popcorn contains more fiber per ounce than even whole wheat bread and brown rice. Eating whole grains, like popcorn, is key to heart health.
A Daily Intake of Whole Grains and Fiber
Can Work Miracles for Your Health
Studies show that people who eat a diet rich in whole grains are less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack. Whole grains are one of the eight key food groups – along with extra virgin olive oil, leafy greens, figs and other fruits, lentils and other legumes, salmon and other seafood, walnuts and flaxseeds, and red wine – that are part of my plan (detailed in my book, “Prevent a Second Heart Attack”) to reverse heart disease or build good heart health to hopefully avoid heart troubles. (Dark chocolate is a bonus food in this plan too. Yeah!)
Natural whole grains contain three botanically defined parts: The bran, the endosperm and the germ (or embryo). Eat the whole seed, or “kernel,” with the three parts intact – the entire complex – and you are eating a complete whole grain that packs a powerful nutritional punch.
How can you ensure that what you buy at the grocery store is actually a whole grain? Look for words that signify whole grains in the ingredient list:
The word “whole” listed before a grain such as “whole rye flour.” The term “100% whole wheat.” The words “berries” or “groats,” such as “wheat berries” or “oat groats.” The words “rolled oats” and “oatmeal.” “Brown rice” and “wild rice.”
Consuming at least three servings of whole grains a day can boost your heart disease defense system by:
Increasing your body’s antioxidant level. Whole grains are virtual antioxidant factories, housing a nice amount of vitamin E, the mineral selenium, and the polyphenol phenolic acids ferulic acid and caffeic acid.
Immunizing “bad” LDL cholesterol against free radical attack.
Lowering your “bad” cholesterol level thereby stabilizing vulnerable plaque.
Lowering your blood pressure.
Preventing and treating metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Eating whole grains will lessen your risk of contracting metabolic syndrome, the constellation of metabolic disturbances that predisposes you to developing type 2 diabetes and accelerates atherosclerosis.
Helping you control your weight. The high fiber and high water content of whole grains lessen weight gain by promoting satiety. Whole-grain foods also contain fewer calories than the equivalent weight of a refined grain.
Here are a few ideas to help you get in your minimum of three servings of whole grains a day:
Snack on popcorn, a tasty and filling snack that’s good for your heart and your waistline. Nix the theater popcorn or microwave bags and pull out the antique hot-air popper, or better yet, pop the kernels in a brown paper lunch bag in the microwave. Season with a few sprays of olive oil and a touch of parmesan cheese or brown sugar – depending on if you crave salty or sweet.
Make oatmeal your breakfast of choice on most days of the week. Cook up a large batch of the steel cut version, which is highest in beta-glucan. Steel cut oatmeal takes longer to cook but is well worth it for the superior taste, texture, and health benefits. Keep a large stash of cooked oatmeal in the refrigerator (in a sealed container), portion out and heat daily servings for a heart-disease-reversing breakfast in minutes.
Substitute 100 percent whole-wheat toast for bagels and 100 percent whole-grain muffins for pastries. Make all your sandwiches with 100 percent whole-grain bread or pita.
Have a slice of veggie pizza made with whole-grain crust for lunch.
Be adventurous and expand your grain repertoire with interesting new tastes such as amaranth, quinoa, and spelt.
Try a recipe with barley, a delightfully tasty and wholesome grain that contains all the cholesterol-lowering heart-healthy ingredients of oatmeal. Perhaps a barley risotto, barley added to stew or salad, a barley pilaf or a comforting barley soup on a cold winter’s day.
Use whole grains in cooking to add taste and nutrition to your favorite dishes. You may be surprised how some foods truly come alive with the addition of this hearty, healthy class of super foods. Dr. Janet’s Barley Mushroom Pilaf, Chef Keith Blauschild’s Quinoa with Walnuts and Currants, and Dr. Janet’s Steel-cut Oats with Fresh Fruit and Walnuts are just a few of the recipes included in “Prevent a Second Heart Attack” that feature whole grains and are sure to please the palate.
Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RD, LDN is author of the books, “Prevent a Second Heart Attack, 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease” (Random House/Crown Publishing 2011) and “Cholesterol Down: 10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in 4 Weeks Without Prescription Drugs” (Random House/Crown Publishing 2006). She is a leading diet- and nutrition writer, educator and practitioner. She consults for the health- and fitness industry, specializing in cardiovascular disease prevention. For more information, please visit: www.DrJanet.com or www.PreventaSecondHeartAttack.com
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