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Grains can be confusing; we hear "eat more whole grains" and then "cut out grains." But what should we actually be doing? Grains are loaded with nutrients including B vitamins and carbohydrates, your body's main source of energy. In addition, whole grains such as oats and brown rice are good sources of fiber, protein, and even more vitamins and minerals. It's recommended that at least half of your daily grains be whole grains. The concern with grains isn't so much that they aren't nutritious, it's the quantity consumed. A serving of up to one cup of grains provides beneficial nutrients however larger servings may contain more calories than needed daily from the grain group.

Grains are pretty easy to prepare -- boil a liquid, add the grain, simmer -- ta da! These days it's even easier with the wide array of microwaveable pouches and cups on the market. But how do they compare to the traditionally prepared grains? Can they be included in a healthy eating plan? As long as you stick to the basic grains, those without flavors or seasonings added, instant grains are comparable to traditional grains, nutritionally speaking. In fact, being able to heat up a pouch of brown rice or steel cut oats in 60- to 90-seconds vs the longer simmering process, may make including them in your diet much easier.

Helpful hints

Keep these ideas in mind the next time you pick up some instant grains.

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--Season yourself. Flavored savory grains can be full of sodium. Your best bet is buying the plain and add your own, sodium-free herbs and spices.

--Don't be heavy handed while dishing out. Most serving sizes for these are one cup. While this is a decent amount for a side dish, it may be less than you are used to when compared to serving out of a large pot of rice or other grain.

--Sweetness. Instant oats can provide substantial amounts of sugar when choosing the flavored ones. Some have nearly 5 teaspoons of sugar in one cup. Stick to the unflavored and sprinkle on your favorite spices or drizzle with a bit of maple syrup.

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)

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