On Whole Grains and Sandwich Upgrades

A friend of mine was lamenting that her husband doesn't really like whole grains and was wondering if he was getting enough in his diet.  She wasn't sure how much was enough. 

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults aim for 3 servings (of "1-ounce equivalents") of whole grains or whole grain products daily.  That is, about half of an adult's intake of grains/grain products should come from whole grains.  Need help understanding what a "1 ounce equivalent of whole grains" is?  Check out the Whole Grains Council for a perspective from the food manufacturing arena and for more information about that yellow and black "Whole Grain" stamp you might notice on grain products.  From an educational perspective, I think Cornell Cooperative Extension does a pretty good job describing whole grains and how to increase consumption of them.  The basics are this: the whole grain still has all three parts of its kernel:  the outer covering or bran, the main starchy portion or endosperm, and the heart of the grain full of nutrients or germ.  A 1-ounce equivalent is another way to say "a standardized serving" - examples are 1 ounce of whole grain breakfast cereal (about 1 cup), 1 slice of bread (which is typically 1 ounce), 1 ounce raw brown rice (which makes about 1/2 cup cooked), 1 ounce dry whole wheat pasta (which makes about 1/2 cup cooked). 

Let's go back to the husband who doesn't really like whole grains.  He won't eat whole grain pasta, brown rice, or stuff like buckwheat, wheat berries, or bulgur.  He also doesn't like breakfast cereals - hot or cold.  The one whole grain he does like is whole grain bread so he typically eats 1 sandwich for lunch, with packaged lunch meat as the filling.  This is a man who is physically active and actually struggles to keep his weight up, as opposed to most adults who struggle to lose weight or not regain lost weight.  So, my friend asks, "Is his lunch okay?" 

Well, in terms of getting whole grains into his daily eating pattern, I would say eating a whole grain bread sandwich for lunch is one way to get 2 out of the 3 ounces of whole grains from a food he actually likes.  The daily packaged lunch meat could use some improvement.  Packaged lunch meat is usually very high in sodium and most brands contain nitrates (and these are bad because they can get converted to nitrites, which then ultimately form nitrosamines which are carcinogenic).  FYI: the brand "Applegate Farms" offers lunch meat without nitrates, but it's still very high in sodium.

So, I would recommend that my friend's husband upgrade his sandwiches by varying the fillings as well as adding veggie stuffers:

- Stuff the sandwich with lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and anything else you might put in a salad.  Sliced or mashed avocado is a nice way to add flavor, heart healthy fat, and calories. 

-Buy NO-MSG roasted chicken from your supermarket, skin the chicken (it comes off very easily when it's still warm and removes a lot of the saturated fat), then remove the meat from the bones and store in a container in the refrigerator.  You'll have chicken that's ready for chicken salad, roast chicken sandwiches, or as an add-on to pesto pasta meals.  Great for protein that is not high in saturated fat or sodium.

-Cook pork tenderloin (very lean and cooks in only 30 minutes), slice thinly, then store in frig.  Excellent for sandwiches.  Also yummy as an add-on for salad-as-supper nights to bump up protein, iron, B12, and zinc content.

-Canned wild salmon or leftover cooked salmon and mix with a lowfat mayo for a delicious salmon salad sandwich.  I use Spectrum Naturals Lowfat Canola Mayo to save on calories.   Canned tuna is also okay if not consumed daily, but do note that albacore tuna is a source of mercury.  Wild salmon is very low in mercury and is also a great source of omega-3 fats, which are very heart healthy.  If you want an excellent article on the subject of getting omega-3 fats without mercury, then read this article published 10/18/06 in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health.

-Buy a good-quality peanut or nut butter (I like MaraNatha organic peanut butter) if not allergic to nuts. Peanut butter & preserves on whole grain bread with a glass of lowfat milk or soy milk is a perfectly respectable lunch!  To bump up calories and protein, use 2 tablespoons of peanut butter in the sandwich.  Easy on the preserves - it's mostly for flavor since it provides mostly sugar.  I sometimes add honey and sliced bananas instead of preserves. 

-One of my favorite "sandwiches" is actually not a sandwich -it is whole wheat pita bread stuffed with hummus (mashed chick peas), a little feta cheese, and tons of salad.  To add extra calories - use a tahini dressing as well. 

Now, how to add that last serving of whole grains.  My friend's husband could simply eat a 1-ounce equivalent serving of popcorn (about 3 cups popped) as a snack.  To encourage the consumption of heart-healthy fats and avoidance of high salt intake, I would strongly recommend that he not buy the microwave movie-style popcorn.  Instead, he could air pop it in the microwave (I never use staples, I just fold the lunch bag twice at the top) and simply add his own oil or fat.  I like lowfat butter with canola oil, used in moderation.  Or, he could pop it the old-fashioned way, on a stovetop in a large pot (with oil). 

The other thing he could do is to simply make his whole grain sandwich with 3 slices of bread.  Bread is a source of sodium (about 150 mg/slice is typical), and adding another slice of bread adds more sodium to his sandwich.   However, I would argue that if he avoids packaged lunch meat (which could easily be contributing 500-700 mg sodium to a sandwich), his 3-tier sandwich would still be far lower in sodium than the 2-tier sandwich with packaged lunch meat.

And lastly, I would still recommend that he continue trying whole grains prepared in different ways to keep variety in his diet.  My friend is an excellent cook, and eventually, he might actually find a whole grain that he considers delicious.

Best- Kathy

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