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Why It’s OK to Eat Refined Grains

You love white bread, pasta, and rice, but given the push by nutrition experts to increase whole grain intake, you may feel bad for preferring, and eating, the refined kind. You can stop feeling guilty now. Science shows it’s OK to eat refined grains. 

Good news about refined grains

Refined grains are often fingered for contributing to chronic health problems, but a recent study has found they are not to blame. The research shows that when refined grains are taken as a group, there is no evidence linking them with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, or dying early.

Perhaps the company refined grains keep is the problem. The influence of refined grains on health are lumped in with the effects of a person’s overall diet, which may not be particularly healthy.  

Balanced eating patterns matter most when it comes to avoiding chronic conditions. It’s likely that a steady diet of saturated fat, sodium, added sugar, and inadequate fiber is more likely to blame for chronic illness than a piece or two of white bread and a serving of rice every day. 

Here’s why.

Nutrients found in refined grains

Most refined grains sold in the U.S. are made from enriched flour. That means they supply added iron, and four B vitamins: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid. 

Americans get much of their iron and other nutrients from enriched grains, such as breakfast cereal, bread, and pasta. In addition, folic acid is very important to help prevent birth defects that occur early in pregnancy, often when a woman doesn’t know she is expecting. (Whole grains and gluten-free products are usually not made with enriched flour.)

All refined grains are not created equal, and some are more nutritious than others.  Bread, cereal, pasta, and rice provide more nutrients than cookies, cake, and chips, which most people should save for treats. 

There’s no shame in starch

Shunning grain foods is fashionable, but I don’t advise it. In addition to vitamins and minerals, grains contain complex carbohydrates your body needs.

Resistant starch is found in foods such as rice, pasta, and potatoes.  Bacteria in the gut feed on resistant starch and produce compounds that support gut health and overall health.

Retrograde starch is a type of resistant starch formed when starchy foods, such as rice and pasta, are cooked and then cooled. Cooked and cooled grains have more resistant starch than when warm.  Reheating cooked and cooled foods does not decrease retrograde starch content. 

How many servings of grains should you eat every day?

While it’s OK to eat refined grains, people who follow a 2,000-calorie eating plan require at least three servings of whole grains out of a total daily suggested intake of six grain servings

Experts suggest eating half your grains as whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, breakfast cereal, and brown rice.  Whole grains generally contain more fiber and higher levels of certain nutrients than their more refined counterparts, and they may help with weight control. 

Bottom line on grains

There’s room for refined grains, such as white rice, bread, and pasta, in a healthy diet. Save sweets, crackers, and chips for occasional indulgences, however.

Overall, a nutritious, enjoyable eating plan matters most for supporting health. No single food, or food group, is problematic for most people. 

Healthy Recipes with Cereal

Cereal is a delicious and nutritious food, and it’s for more than pouring into a bowl and dousing with milk. You can make all sorts of fun, healthy recipes with the cereal you have on hand to eat for any meal or as snacks. I asked my dietitian friends for their best out-of-the-box cereal recipes. Check out their creative contributions!

Why cereal is a healthy choice

Whether it’s whole grain, or refined, cereal supplies energy-producing carbohydrate. In addition, it can be a source of other nutrients that often go missing in the diet.

But all cereals are not alike.

Whole grains have the most fiber, vitamin E, and selenium, but they are not usually enriched.

Refined grain is a term used to describe grains that are missing one or more of their three key parts – the bran, the germ, or the endosperm. Refining a grain results in nutrient loss.

However, most refined grains are enriched. That means processors add vitamins and minerals, but not fiber, back to refined grains in the same amount, or more, as found in whole grains.

Enriched grains have health benefits

Enriched grains contain B vitamins, including folic acid, and the mineral iron. Iron and folic acid don’t occur naturally in significant amounts in whole grains, but they are welcome additions to refined grains, especially cereal.

Health experts recommend that women in their childbearing years get adequate folic acid every day. Adequate folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects during the first month of pregnancy. A serving of enriched cereal can provide as much as 100% of the Daily Value for folic acid.

The added iron in enriched cereal is a good source of this nutrient. Iron is needed to prevent iron deficiency anemia, which can result in long lasting fatigue, and other health problems.

Do grains cause weight gain?

You may be surprised to hear that grains may be good for your waistline. An eating pattern that includes higher amounts of a variety of grains, including cereal, is associated with a healthier body weight.

Choose cereals with the least added sugar, which adds calories. Save sugar-laden cereals for a treat, not an everyday food.

Out-of-the-box cereal creations

Since I think cereal is good any time of day, I’ve divided up the delicious healthy recipes with cereal into two groups: sweet and savory. Enjoy them at any meal, or for a snack!

Sweet healthy recipes with cereal

Coconut Fruit Tart by Live Best

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cereal Nachos by Jill Weisenberger

Strawberry Banana Breakfast Popsicles by The Nutritionist Reviews

Cinnamon Buckwheat Granola by Foods with Judes

Crunchy Cereal-Filled Waffles by Bonnie Taub-Dix

No Added Sugar Fruit and Nut Bread by Better Is the New Perfect

Almond Pistachio Cocoa Bites by Amy Gorin

Flourless Milk & Cereal Pancakes by Sinful Nutrition

Sweet and Spicy Peanut Trail Mix by National Peanut Board

Grab-and-Go Granola Bars by Liz’s Healthy Table

Protein Packed Chocolate Cereal Bowl by Nutrition Starring You

Kid Friendly Smoothie Bowl by The Crowded Table

Vanilla Maple Chia Yogurt Parfait by Julie Harrington

Peanut Butter Cereal Bars by Better Is the New Perfect

Savory healthy recipes with cereal

Black Bean Breakfast Burrito Bowl by The Grateful Grazer

Crispy Hummus Mashed Potato Balls by Tasty Balance Nutrition

Sweet and Spicy Popcorn Snack Mix from The Lean Green Bean

Savory Oatmeal Breakfast Bowl with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Fried Egg by Jessica Levinson

Wheaties Oven Baked Ravioli by My Menu Pal

Fonio Recipe by Laurel Ann Nutrition

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