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Whole grain truth

10/05/05 12:00AM By Rachel Johnson
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(HOST) If you're confused by all the choices in the cereal aisle - you're not alone. Commentator Rachel Johnson has the whole-grain truth.


(JOHNSON) The other morning, my husband joined me at the kitchen table and poured himself a bowl of cereal. He added milk, took a bite, looked at me in disbelief and said, "You've got to be kidding! This stuff tastes like cardboard." Mark is the kind of guy who will eat just about anything, so I knew this was trouble. The description of fiber twigs on the box should have given me an inkling that he would object.

I rely on cereal to help incorporate plenty of whole grains and fiber into my diet, and I was sure I had hit nutritional gold with this one: whole grains, 10 grams of fiber and a fine taste (at least to me), especially when mixed with yogurt and fruit. Clearly, Mark disagreed.

So it was back to the cereal aisle. Finding a healthy cereal these days that we both can enjoy is no easy task. And sometimes the health claims themselves can be confusing. Recently I grabbed a popular brand with the words Whole Grain boldly splashed across the box. But the nutrition label listed only one pitiful gram of fiber per serving. How could a cereal touting whole grain have so little dietary fiber? Whole grains, it turns out, can vary tremendously in their fiber content.

A whole grain kernel starts with three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. When these kernels are heavily processed or refined, they no longer remain whole. Most of the bran and some of the germ is removed, resulting in the loss of fiber as well as a multitude of vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting phyto- nutrients. Although manufacturers enrich refined grains by adding back iron and some B vitamins, this does not add back all of the whole-grain benefits.

We have good reason to be on the prowl for those benefits. People who eat plenty of whole grains tend to be leaner and have a lower risk of heart disease than those who don't. This is probably be- cause whole grains contain antioxidants, phytoestrogens and phytosterols that are protective against heart disease. The fiber in whole grains also has its benefits, and most of us fail to get the amount of fiber recommended for a healthy diet: 39 grams per day for men, 25 for women. While most whole grains are high in fiber, some, like the whole-grain corn in the cereal that baffled me, are not. For maximum health, a cereal with both whole grain and high fiber makes the best sense.

My husband recently rebelled and went shopping on his own. Darn proud of himself, he came home with a cereal with eight grams of fiber per serving whose first ingredient was wheat bran and de- clared that it tasted better than mine. I didn't have the heart to tell him that although wheat bran is a good source of fiber, it's not a whole grain, and with 18 grams of sugar per serving, he still has a ways to go. But at least he's given up the chocolate-frosted sugar bombs.

I'm Rachel Johnson of Colchester.

Nutritionist Rachel Johnson is Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UVM and an advisor to EatingWell magazine.
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