A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that people who replaced refined grains with 100-percent whole grains absorbed fewer calories from foods eaten with whole grains and burned more calories. These losses added up to a 100-calorie deficit per day, according to the Tufts University researchers who conducted this 8-week study.
While 100 calories might not sound like a lot, eating 100-percent whole grains consistently could add up to significant savings when spanning weeks, months and years. Losing 700 calories per week by cutting calories with a traditional weight loss plan, for example, could add up to nearly a pound of fat loss per month. A brisk 30-minute walk also burns 100 calories.
Eating intact whole grains like brown rice and steel-cut oats versus those that are ground or milled could potentially offer more calorie-saving benefits, the researchers hypothesized.
If you’re ready to up your whole-grain game, there are a few things to consider.
What 100% whole grain is
A whole grain has the germ and outer bran either still intact, as in the case of brown rice, or ground, like in 100-percent whole-wheat flour. The milling process of refined grains, however, removes the outer bran and germ. During this process, fiber, protein, and other important nutrients decrease. Oftentimes food manufacturers add nutrients back in another form, as is the case for white fluffy bread.
When grains can be deceiving
Confusingly, terms like multi-grain and 9-grain shed no light on whether or not a product contains whole grains. “Enriched wheat” equates to refined white flour with vitamins and minerals added back in. Sometimes grain products are even darkened with molasses or caramel coloring, therefore, you can’t count on brownness to indicate whole-grain content, either. “Organic wheat” is not whole wheat, despite the health halo. To be sure that you’re eating whole grains, look for descriptors like 100% whole wheat, brown rice, whole-wheat flour, whole-grain oat flour, whole white wheat flour, oats, oatmeal and whole [other grains]. “Made with whole grains” means that while some whole grains were used, the amount doesn’t stack up to a full serving, which equates to 16 grams or more of whole grains per serving.
Easy Whole-Grain Swaps You Can Make From Breakfast to Dessert
At breakfast: Toast a slice of sprouted grain bread in place of white bread. Microwave rolled oats instead of pouring a bowl of crispy white rice cereal. Or make a big batch of this Whole-Grain Breakfast Porridge made with steel-cut oats, wild rice and barley. When making pancakes and waffles, it’s super easy to swap in whole-wheat pastry flour, like in these Whole-Grain Waffles made with rolled oats.
At lunch: Fill a 100-percent whole wheat or brown rice tortilla instead of a white tortilla. Add whole grains to salad bowls as is done in Mexican Brown Rice Salad.
For dinner: Use rolled oats in meatballs and meatloaf in place of breadcrumbs. Experiment with different types of whole-grain rice in place of white, like wild and brown rice in pilafs, brown basmati rice with stir-fries and Chinese black rice. When it comes to pasta, opt for whole-grain versions of thin spaghetti, brown rice pad Thai noodles and Japanese buckwheat noodles. This Whole-Grain Pasta with Chickpeas and Escarole is a great place to start.
During snack time: Surprise! Maybe you didn’t realize that popcorn is an intact whole grain. Next time try this Spicy Citrus Popcorn. Use 100-percent whole-grain crackers in place of refined versions. Brown rice crackers tend to be super crunchy and satisfying, especially with seeds. If you buy chips, opt for tortilla chips made with stone-ground whole corn.
When making dessert: Use whole-wheat pastry flour in place of all-purpose flour in muffins, cookies, brownies and cakes. You can even use it in piecrust, as in this Butternut Squash Orange Pie with Coconut Whipped Cream. Grind rolled oats in a blender to make oat flour and use in breading. Oat flour may or may not work in your favorite baking recipes that depend on gluten for structure. Use crispy brown rice in bars in place of white, as you see done in this recipe for Crispy Rice Treats.
Many restaurants now offer whole-grain wraps, rolls, buns, noodles and pizza crust, making it easier to make the whole-grain swap whether you’re at home or away.
Michelle Dudash is a registered dietitian nutritionist, Cordon Bleu-certified chef consultant, and the creator of Clean Eating Cooking School: Monthly Meal Plans Made Simple.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.