Whole Grains for Heart Health

February is American Heart Month! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. with one in three deaths from heart disease and stroke. The good news is according to the American Heart Association, by eating well and maintaining a healthy weight you can reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 80 percent.
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Whole grains are a cornerstone of a heart-healthy diet, providing antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and numerous other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. These nutrients are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease by helping to keep blood pressure, cholesterol, and even weight, in check.

What exactly is a “whole grain”?

Whole grains are composed of the entire kernel, the bran, germ and endosperm. Popular options include whole wheat, barley, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, millet, wheat berry, whole rye, and oatmeal. Unfortunately, most Americans are not getting enough whole grains. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate recommend making “at least half of your grains whole.” Put another way, the average healthy adult should consume at least three one-ounce servings of whole grains daily to ensure a balanced, healthful diet.

 What should you look for at the store?

When shopping for whole grain foods, a good rule of thumb for identifying them is to look for “100% whole grain” on the label. Also, check the product’s ingredient list, making sure the whole grain ingredient is the first mentioned.

  • Barley: Great in salads, soups, and side dishes! 1 oz. = 1/2 cup
  • Brown Rice: Offers iron and many B vitamins and tastes great in stir-fry! 1 oz. = 1/2 cup
  • Bulgur: Try this whole grain in soups, casseroles, or on its own. 1 oz. = 1/2 cup
  • Popcorn: A great snack on its own. 1 oz. = 3 cups, popped
  • Quinoa: A protein rich seed that cooks to a fluffy and creamy. Use in salads or side dishes. 1 oz. = 1/2 cup
  • Oatmeal: Love a warm bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or use as a thickener in smoothies. 1 oz. = 1/2 cup
  • Whole Wheat: Love whole wheat bread for a hearty sandwich! 1 oz. = 1 slice

Think you aren’t getting enough?

The Grain Foods Foundation helped create a whole grain video series starring Liz Weiss, R.D., family nutrition expert and founder of Meal Makeover Moms, as a combined effort with MyPlate and other grain groups. I’ve included a list of my favorites above, but with so many delicious choices, the options are endless!

It’s never too late to make strides to a healthier heart. Whole grains are one part of heart healthy diet but it’s important to be mindful of other diet components like fiber, vitamins E, C, and B from fruits, vegetables, and legumes as well as healthy fats from avocadoes and essential omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish (e.g. salmon and sardines), flax seed oil, and other nuts. A balanced diet including the nutrients above along with regular exercise are the key to keeping your heart healthy.