No Grain, No Gain

by: Cynthia Sass | September 27, 2012

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Upping your whole-grain intake is a speedy way to improve your diet.

No supermarket food is hotter than whole grains. According to a 2011 report from the Food Marketing Institute, the most sought-after health claims on food packages today relate to benefits of whole grains. And store selections are growing: The number of new whole-grain foods on the market jumped nearly 20-fold between 2000 and 2010, to more than 3,200 new products. But the hard truth is the average intake of whole grains in the U.S. is less than one serving per day; and less than 10 percent of Americans eat the recommended minimum three daily servings.

When I see whole grains in my clients’ food journals, I tend to see the same three selections—oats, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta. While each is great, expanding your variety and hitting the three-a-day goal can expose your body to a broader spectrum of nutrients. It can also give you a competitive edge by transforming your body composition. A Tufts University study found that whole-grain eaters carry less visceral fat, the type of belly fat stored under the abdominal wall.

Here are five whole-grain choices to add to your menus and ways to enjoy them:

Barley is the highest-fiber whole grain. Its natural substances have been shown to help reduce cholesterol (even more than oats) and boost immunity by feeding the “good” bacteria in your digestive tract. Swap in barley for brown rice as a side dish, or enjoy it as an oatmeal alternative at breakfast.

Bulgur is typically made from durum wheat. It’s high in fiber and cooks quickly, making it a convenient whole-grain option for healthy-in-a-hurry meals. If you’ve ever had tabbouleh, you’ve enjoyed bulgur, but it’s also great in place of rice in pilafs, sprinkled onto a garden salad, or baked into such desserts as cakes and cookies.

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This relative of quinoa is high in protein, minerals and antioxidants but about half the size, so it cooks in about 15 minutes and can be enjoyed hot or cold. It works well in stuffed peppers, or chilled and layered parfait-style with nonfat, organic Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, chopped nuts and such spices as ginger and cinnamon.

Some research shows that rye is more satiating than wheat. A recent animal study found that compared to wheat, mice fed wholegrain rye had a greater reduction in body weight, slightly improved insulin control and lower total cholesterol levels. Look for crackers made with whole-grain rye or rye flakes, which can be used in place of rolled oats as a hot cereal (as well as a cold cereal), or toasted and sprinkled on top of fruit salad.

Cynthia Sass is the author of Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches. The nutrition consultant to Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays and the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers, she works with a wide range of athletes, including tennis players, as a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics.

Originally published in the June 2012 issue of TENNIS.

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