Reducing carbs can help you lose and maintain weight, prevent illness and contribute to your continued good health. Whole grains can -- and should -- play a role in your balanced, ongoing controlled-carb nutrition regimen.

If you're just starting out on a strict low-carb regimen, now is not the time to eat whole grains. However, you should think ahead: Prepare and inform yourself for the eventual addition of healthful carbs to your menu. You'll need to know about the benefits of consuming controlled amounts of whole grains and how to do so without derailing your efforts.

Whole grains in a controlled-carb lifestyle
We all know that refined or processed flour and sugar offer zero benefit. They add excess calories, cause spikes in blood sugar (affecting the production of insulin and other hormones), contribute to mood swings and zap energy levels. Natural whole grains, however, do provide nutritional benefit, and you can add them to your diet in its later phases if you choose them wisely and control portion sizes.

Adults need 20-35g/day of dietary fiber
Whole grains can contribute to fiber intake; you can deduct these carbs (fiber grams) from the total carb count because fiber is not digested. Whole grains also add variety, increase taste and texture, and provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients to meals.

So what's the difference between whole and refined grains?

Whole grain choices
When selecting higher-carb foods, eat small portions and choose those with the most nutrients:

*Information is based on cooked food, unless otherwise noted Whole grains contain the entire grain, the bran (fiber), the endosperm (protein, carbs and B vitamins) and the germ (trace minerals, B vitamins [especially folic acid for pregnant women], unsaturated fats, antioxidants and phytonutrients).

Refined or processed grains consist only of the endosperm and lack all the good stuff above. These grains include white rice, corn, wheat and light rye flour, bleached and unbleached wheat flour, light rye flour, and cornmeal. Avoid them -- their higher glycemic values provide mostly excess calories.

Eating grains the smart way
Adding carbs back into your meals can be intimidating and overwhelming, especially when you've achieved success with your low-carb lifestyle.

Start slowly
The key word here is control: Control the amount of carbs you add and you will continue to control your health and weight. Start slowly, adding small amounts into your daily total. Try adding one of the whole grains three times a week and monitor changes in the way you feel and your rate of weight loss.

Your weight loss may start to slow when you add carbs; if you're not at your goal weight, you may want to hold off on the grains a bit longer. Then again, these beneficial grains may not affect your weight at all. Carb tolerance varies from person to person; individual thresholds for carbs can range from 25g to more than 100g. This means that some people can eat two or three servings of whole grains per day; others may need to limit themselves to one per day or one serving three times per week; this is in addition to eating five servings of vegetables and two servings of low-glycemic- index fruits/day.

Pay close attention to how you feel and let your own body be your guide. As for weight loss, many factors affect the amount of whole grains you can eat without provoking a stall:

Grain Serving size Net carbs Calories
Wheat germ (toasted) 2 tablespoons 5.2 54
Oat bran (dry) 2 tablespoons 6 29
Bulgur wheat 1/4 cup 6.4 38
Wild rice 1/4 cup 8 42
Hominy 1/2 cup 9.7 59
Couscous 1/4 cup 8.5 44
Pearled barley 1/4 cup 10.3 54
Brown rice 1/4 cup 10.3 54
Oatmeal 1/2 cup 10.6 72
Bulgur wheat 1/2 cup 12.8 76
Millet 1/4 cup 13.4 72
  • age
  • activity level
  • current weight
  • overall health

Health benefits
Researchers don't yet understand exactly why whole grains are good for health, but their benefits seem to come from consuming the entire whole grain (bran, germ and endosperm) and not any single part of the grain.

And what are these benefits? Regular, careful consumption of whole grains can contribute to weight control and lessen the risk of cancer, heart disease, constipation and diabetes. In one study, women who ate whole grains were 49 percent less likely to gain weight than women who ate refined grains. The authors of this study stated that distinguishing whole-grain from refined-grain products -- a feat that is more difficult than it sounds -- is very important.

Another study showed that eating whole-grain foods reduced the risk of diabetes by up to 36 percent in 160,000 men and women; their insulin levels were also lower. Likewise, whole grains improved blood sugar control in diabetics. A third study that measured whole grain intake for 11 years linked eating whole grains with a reduced risk of death and the incidence of heart disease.

According to the American Dietetic Association, eating whole grains can normalize blood glucose and insulin levels; lower cholesterol, lessening the severity of diabetes and heart disease; reduce the risk of colon cancer; help alleviate constipation; prevent the development of diverticulosis and diverticulitis; and promote a feeling of fullness.

Use common sense
Become an avid label-reader and learn what the various terms mean -- and what they do not mean:

Items labeled as "multi-grain," "stone-ground," "100 percent wheat," "seven-grain," pumpernickel, organic or bran may contain little or no whole grain.

Rye (crispbread crackers), "whole grain" or "whole wheat" is likely to contain whole grains.

Bread is often brown only because of added food coloring or high-carb molasses -- not necessarily because it contains whole grain.

Ingredients are listed in descending order of the amount in the food. Foods that are best for you have healthful ingredients near the beginning of the ingredient list.

Remember: Contrary to what you may hear from those who haven't read up on the subject, low-carb doesn't mean NO carb! You can incorporate nutritious whole grains into a controlled-carb lifestyle -- and if you do so consciously, carefully and armed with information, these natural nuggets can help you on your journey toward weight loss and optimum health.

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