Keeping children on
a safe path
Wondering how to keep children from starting to drink or smoke? Start young — preferably before your child experiments with either one — to build a sturdy foundation.
• Talk to a school guidance counselor or your child’s doctor about free, helpful programs for parents on guiding healthy behaviors.
• Brainstorm with your child about ways to say no to risky behavior. Aim for a full scale of options between “No, thanks” and “Stop asking — I said no.”
• Discuss good reasons not to drink or smoke. Ask children what they think and share your beliefs and values. Talk honestly about relatives who had health problems or died due to tobacco or alcohol addictions. Problems like bad breath, yellow teeth and embarrassing behavior may be persuasive, too.
• Set expectations for healthy behaviors. Use simple rewards and consequences to encourage good behavior.
• Set an example. If necessary, try to quit smoking or drinking too much.
• Keep lines of communication open. Check in regularly about how the day went. Ask about plans, friends and activities.
• Call your child’s doctor or guidance counselor for more help if you think your child is smoking or drinking.
It’s better to be whole than refined
One path to better health is a wholesome diet, and one steppingstone on that path is whole grains. Whole grains are heart-healthy and may help prevent diabetes or slow its onset.
Grains are the edible seeds of certain grasses, such as oats, corn, wheat, rye and millet. Each grain has a tough outer jacket called bran, which is rich in fiber and B vitamins, wrapped around the starchy endosperm. Packed inside these layers is the germ, a storehouse of healthy oils, vitamins B and E and essential minerals like magnesium and zinc.
Whole grains contain the complete packet of nutrients found in all three layers of the seed. A few examples of whole grains are oatmeal, cracked wheat (bulgur), whole wheat, whole grain cornmeal, popcorn and brown rice. When whole grains are refined — white flour, for example, or white rice — the bran and germ are removed. That strips away fiber and a lot of healthy nutrients.
Why are whole grains a healthy food?
Whole grains deliver fiber, heart-healthy oils, essential vitamins and minerals and other beneficial substances found in plants.
Studies show that people who eat more whole grains are less likely to develop heart disease and diabetes. After tracking participants for eight years, for example, the Black Women’s Health Study noted that having one or more daily servings of whole grains cut the odds of diabetes by 31 percent compared to eating less than one weekly serving. The Physicians’ Health Study found that eating whole grain cereals once or more daily reduced risk for heart failure.
How might diet make a difference?
Eating enough whole grains helps lower total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides (fats) and blood pressure. It also lowers blood insulin and smoothes out blood sugar spikes.
The fiber found in whole grains is good for digestive health. By bulking up stools, it prevents constipation. And because fiber slows digestion, you wind up feeling full longer after eating.
Can whole grains protect against cancer?
Studies disagree, but some evidence suggests that whole grains — not just fiber — help lower risk for colorectal cancer.
How much should you eat?
Aim for three servings of whole grains daily for adults, recommends the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). At least half of all grain servings should be whole grain. Check www.mypyramid.gov and click on MyPyramid Plan to personalize needs based on activity level.
One serving of grains — called an ounce equivalent by the USDA — is one slice of bread, one cup of most ready-to-eat cereals, or half a cup of cooked grain, pasta or cereal. It’s worth whipping out a measuring cup. You’re likely to be surprised at how little each serving is compared to the portions most restaurants — and people —d ish out. It’s not hard to eat several servings at once.
How can you tell if a food has whole grains?
Photo courtesy of Whole Grains Council
Let’s say you’re aiming for three whole grain servings a day. You can meet your goal by having three servings of any food stamped “100% Whole Grain,” or six servings of any food stamped “Whole Grain.”
No stamps in sight?
Read the ingredients on the product label with these tips in mind:
• Whole grains include brown rice, oatmeal (rolled oats), whole-grain corn, whole wheat and whole wheat berries. Less common sources are bulgur (cracked wheat), hulled barley (Scotch or pearled barley may not have bran), millet and oat groats. See www.mypyramid.gov for more options.
• Steer clear of grains described as “refined,” “bleached,” “enriched,” or “degerminated.” Usually, these refer to refined grains.
• If the first ingredient says “whole” (whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye), odds are good that the product is mostly whole grain, according to the Whole Grains Council.
• Watch out for multigrain and seven grain products. It’s hard to know just how much of the product is whole grains, especially if refined flour is listed among the ingredients. Similarly, “made with whole grains” just means the ingredients include whole grains.
How can you eat more whole grains?
• Start the morning with whole grain cereal. Old-fashioned oats or quick oats taste great sprinkled with cinnamon, nuts and dried fruit for a nutritious boost.
• Substitute whole grains or whole grain products when possible. Eat brown rice instead of white rice (hint: quick cooking varieties count as whole grain). Try whole wheat pasta, bagels, crackers or couscous, or whole grain corn or whole wheat tortillas. When recipes require flour, try making one-third to half the amount whole grain flour.
• For picky eaters, try sandwiches with a slice of whole wheat bread and a slice of white bread.
• Sample a new whole grain or whole grain recipe each week. See home recipes for whole grains and other healthy eats at www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/recipes/home-cooking, the Nutrition Source website at Harvard School of Public Health.
• Add whole grains — brown rice or barley, perhaps — to soups and stews, suggests the American Dietetic Association. Or turn extra cooked grains into a hearty salad by tossing with dressing and raw or cooked vegetables.
Whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. So the next time you make a trip to the grocery store, plan ahead and make a list of the items you eat (pasta, bread, muffins, rice, etc.) that may have whole grain substitutions.