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Healthy Bites: Eat foods with whole grains

Focused on Health - March 2013

by Adelina Espat

Take on this challenge in the Healthy Bites series. Sarai Garcia did it. And, so can you!

Do you shy away from brown bread and rice? Then, it’s time to take the whole grains challenge.

whole grains healthy“When you eat whole grains, your body gets some major benefits,” says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson and the Healthy Bites challenge coach. “A diet rich in whole grains may help curb your risk of colon cancer and other diseases.”

Plus, whole grains have lots of fiber. And, fiber helps you stay full longer, maintain a healthy weight, and keep your cholesterol and blood sugar at healthy levels.

Add more grains

New to whole grains? Mary Ellen suggests you start slow until your tummy and taste buds get adjusted to the switch.

“Start by including whole grains in one meal and one snack every day,” Mary Ellen says. “Your end goal is to make whole grains a part of every meal.” 

Meet Sarai, our Healthy Bites challenge champ

whole grains foods“I’ve always found excuses for not making my health a priority,” says 48-year-old Sarai Garcia. “My life has been full of constant activity. From working full-time to participating in church activities and volunteering at my son’s school – there’s never been time for exercise and healthy eating.”

But now that Sarai’s son has gone off to college, she’s done with excuses.

“I told my husband it’s time for a change. We both need to lose weight and get healthy.”

Sarai takes the challenge

“Before the Healthy Bites challenge, my family ate lots of pasta, wild rice, beef, pork, chicken and sausage. And, we barely ate veggies,” Sarai says. “We didn’t even know what foods were whole grains.”

“When I met with Sarai, I reassured her that eating more whole grains is easier than she thinks,” Mary Ellen says. “I told her she’s got lots of grain options.”

That’s because whole grains aren’t just in the bread aisle.  Many foods are rich in whole grains, like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa and even popcorn.

READ ALSO: Whole grain tips: get more nutrition

What worked for Sarai

whole grains bread“At first, I thought my biggest obstacle would be getting my husband to eat whole grains,” says Sarai. “But, we were both surprised by how easy it was to make the switch.”

Sarai offers this advice:

  • Shop for whole grains: “I learned that not all foods have real whole grains. So, I used the Healthy Bites whole grain food guide to make a grocery list. Then, I stocked up on items like oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, brown rice and quinoa.”
  • Read nutrition labels: “One of the most difficult parts of this challenge was learning to read food labels. It was confusing in the beginning but now I know how to spot the real grains. The trick is to look for items that list the whole grain ingredients first.”
  • Start with simple swaps: “It was hard at first to get used to the taste and texture. So, I definitely suggest you start with simple swaps, like eating whole grain bread instead of white bread. Now that I’ve gotten used to eating whole grain, I can’t even eat white bread anymore.”
  • Track your swaps: “Writing down and seeing how many whole grains I ate every day really helped me improve. I started with two servings a day and slowly increased to three and four servings some days. There were days when I even ate five servings of whole grains!”

READ ALSO: Whole Grains: Weed out imposter ingredients

“Completing the whole grain challenge has inspired my husband and me to make other healthy changes,” Sarai says. “We’re eating more fruits and veggies, and less red meat. We’re even getting up earlier in the morning to exercise before work.”

DOWNLOAD:  Your guide to whole grains

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