Who wouldn’t want to celebrate a food group that is healthier, with higher levels of fiber and protein, and gobs of essential nutrients?   Not to mention amazing flavor and texture. Gone are the days where bleached white flour dominated the landscape of carbohydrates – now we can enjoy the benefits (and flavor experience) of everything from amaranth and buckwheat, to freekeh, millet, quinoa, teff, rye and whole wheat, along with many others.

So when it comes to giving your children (and your family) a gift of better health, just head to the whole grain aisle in your grocery store.

What exactly is a whole grain?

Here’s a quick anatomy lesson.  Grains typically consist of an outer coat (bran), a body (endosperm) and a soul (germ).  When a whole grain is eaten, 100% of the nutrition benefits are available – specifically Vitamins E, B1-3, B6,and minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, folate, and the bonus of protein and tons of fiber.  The more refined (processed) the grain, the more nutrients are lost in the process. 

How do I know if I am buying a whole grain?

If you aren’t shopping in the bulk aisle, and buying prepared foods, look for the WHOLE GRAIN stamp on your foods.  You’ll see either a 100% stamp (indicating that 100% of the grain is whole with a minimum of 16 grams whole grain/serving), a 50% stamp (where at least 50% of the grain is whole and a minimum of 8 grams whole grain/serving) or a basic stamp (where there is a significant amount of whole grain, but primarily contain refined grains, with a minimum of 8 grams whole grain/serving).  Confusing?  It doesn’t need to be, because if you seek the label, it indicates that there is benefit in the food contained within.  Without the label, perhaps not so much!

What are the health benefits of whole grains?

Whole grains are linked with numerous health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, reducing body fat, keeping insulin levels steady to reduce spikes in blood sugar, as well as lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, many cancers, and death from all causes.  Add to that the fiber bonus (better elimination from you know where), and improved satiety (fullness), and you’ve got a gift from nature.

Can my baby/child eat whole grains?

Of course, and pediatricians and family doctors worldwide recommend that all children (unless allergic) should enjoy a balanced diet of ALL foods (except honey, because of its infant botulism risk) in the first year of life.  So there’s no reason why you can’t incorporate a variety of grains in your baby’s and children’s diet from the day you start solid foods.  Just make sure your doc is AOK with your plan and that there are other iron-rich foods in your baby’s diet if you aren’t using iron-fortified cereals.