Everyone knows that eating ample amounts of fruits and vegetables can lower cholesterol, promote weight control and help prevent heart attack, stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer. But few people realize that whole grains are just as good as fruits and vegetables—and sometimes even better—at fighting many of these serious illnesses.
Fiber gets most of the credit for the healthful properties of whole grains, but studies have found that the phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals found in whole grains, which contain all parts of the grain, are just as important. The whole grains described below can be found at most health-food stores and many grocery stores…
What it's good for: This tiny grain with an earthy, faintly grassy taste may protect against heart disease and cancer. It is also an excellent source of complete protein—that is, one that contains all eight essential amino acids.
Major effective ingredients: Vitamins E and B. Amaranth is also rich in calcium, phosphorus and iron.
How to add it to your diet: As it cooks, amaranth releases a glutinous starch that adds body to soups and stews.
*For recipes using whole grains, read Whole Grains Every Day Every Way, Clarkson Potter, by Lorna Sass or visit the Web site of the Whole Grains Council, www.wholegrainscouncil.org.
What it's good for: Helps fight eye disease (macular degeneration) and certain cancers, including lung cancer.
Major effective ingredients: Vitamin E and other antioxidants.
How to add it to your diet: Season brown rice as you would white rice, or it can be added to soups, casseroles, stir-fry dishes and salads.
What it's good for: Helps fight heart disease and cancer...and may guard against cataracts.
Major effective ingredients: Of all the grains, whole-grain corn is the richest source of antioxidants. It's also a good source of insoluble fiber, which cannot be digested but adds bulk to the stool.
How to add it to your diet: Choose whole-grain corn-based cereals, whole-grain cornmeal breads and cornmeal tortillas.
Oats And Barley
What they are good for: Lowering cholesterol.
Major effective ingredient: Soluble fiber. When soluble fiber is digested, it changes to a gummy consistency that lowers blood cholesterol. The exact mechanism of this effect is not yet known.
How to add oats to your diet: Choose an oat cereal or oatmeal or make oatmeal cookies.
How to add barley to your diet: Use it to thicken soups and make creamy risottos, or cook it with carrots.
What it's good for: Protects against heart disease and hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast and prostate malignancies.
Major effective ingredient: Rye is a rich source of lignans, a class of phytoestrogens (plant compounds that help protect against the harmful effects of excess estrogen).
How to add it to your diet: Use wholegrain rye bread or whole-grain rye crackers.
What it's good for: It has a laxative effect that aids digestion and also is high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Major effective ingredient: Insoluble fiber.
How to add it to your diet: Replace white bread with whole-wheat bread. and highly processed cereals with whole-grain cereals.
Helpful: To ensure that a bread product contains whole grain, the label must include the word "whole."
Example: For whole wheat, look for whole-wheat flour or whole-wheat grain. Breads that contain seven, 12 or even 15 grains are not necessarily whole-grain breads.