Thursday, February 9, 2012

Amber Waves of Whole Grain for School Lunches

Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign, along with USDA Secretary Vilsack recently announced a long awaited and much needed revamp to the school lunch program. If you’re a parent of a child in public school, you know exactly what I’m talking about. School kitchens no longer exist to cook food, they are simply heat and serve facilities. Several years ago, my church tried to hold a spaghetti dinner as a fundraiser for a mission trip we were taking. We rented the local public school because it has more seating capacity than our church. We were surprised how challenging it was to prepare foods in the school kitchen. There were no pots to boil water! The menus are very much less than desirable, at least in my kid’s opinions, along with the fact that there is not enough time to eat, so my kids pack every day and have for years. The First Lady should be applauded for her efforts to fight childhood obesity, not only through increasing exercise, but also by improving the school menus, a place were some kids get the majority of their calories each day.

Of the many changes that will be taking place, adding more whole grains to the menu is one of the changes. Why is fiber important? Well besides the fact that it is crucial to maintaining regularity, fiber is also lowers blood cholesterol levels, reduces the risk of heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, and diverticulosis.

So a primer on fiber:

Fiber is only found in plant-based foods. There are 2 types of fiber: soluble fiber found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and oat bran; insoluble fiber found in whole grains, wheat bran, beans, fruit and vegetables.

How much fiber do you need? Women should be getting between 25-30 grams per day, men should consume 30-38 grams per day, children and teens should consume 19-26 grams per day.

The average American only eats 15 grams per day…. That’s a reflection on some poor dietary choices in my mind!

Reading those food labels:

High fiber – these items will contain 5 grams of fiber or more per serving.

Good Source of Fiber – these items will have 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving.

Read the Ingredient list: Look for words such as whole, whole grain, whole wheat, stoneground whole, oats, oatmeal, brown rice, wheatberries. These items mean that the grain has been minimally refined and still retains most of the fiber. Words like “multigrain” do not necessarily mean that those grains are “whole” so read carefully. Whole grains should be the first or second ingredient in the list to make it truly high in fiber.

Fiber from Field to Fork:
Does the farmer do anything to change the fiber in your food as it goes from farm to fork? No. The grains that are harvested, leave our farm “whole”. The grain has all its “parts” – the bran, the germ and the endosperm. At the flour mill, grains go through various stages of refining which effect the amount of fiber. According to the Whole Grains Council, a bushel of wheat that leaves my farm, will make enough whole wheat flour to bake 60 loaves of bread. That same bushel when refined into white flour will make only 42 loaves. The difference in the number of loaves of bread a bushel makes is related to the amount of refining of the wheat into flour.

So how do you make sure you get enough fiber?
  1. Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
  2. Read labels. Look for 2 or more grams of fiber per serving.
  3. Read ingredient list. Look for whole grains listed as the first or second ingredient so that you know the majority of what was used in the food was whole grain.

Amber waves of whole grain. Let’s hope they sweep through the school systems across this country and improve the nutrition of all our kids.

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