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Healthy on a Budget

Find out how to save a bundle and stay healthy with affordable meal recipes, food shopping tips, and much more.
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How to Get a Whole Lot More…Whole Grains

Posted by Whitney Ajie -

"What's this whole thing about eating whole grains? At least half of my grains need to be whole grains?! Geez – how am I going to cram that much into my diet when I don't have that much money to spend on food anyway?! All this healthy stuff is too expensive…I give up…"

If that sounds like something you've said to yourself in the past, I have good news for you. Whole grains aren't that expensive at all, especially if you pay attention to how you buy them (hint: bulk!) and try buying store brands or generic brands to save money while still reaping the benefits. Even more, when it comes to things like oatmeal and brown rice, a little goes a long way which saves everyone a bundle. See the tips below for ways to choose real whole grain products and ways to save when buying whole grains!

First, let's make sure we're clear on what a whole grain is and why it's recommended for our health. According to Leia Kedem, University of Illinois Extension Nutrition and Wellness Educator, "Whole grains contain the whole grain seed. This includes the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. On the other hand, refined grain, found in white bread, white rice, etc., contain only the endosperm. Nutritionally speaking, the process of refining grains strips the majority of fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, folate and iron from the product, leaving it with little nutritional value. Adding whole grains to your diet aids in the consumption of these vitamins and minerals that are not present in refined grain products. Because they are nutritional powerhouses, whole grains may help prevent digestive problems such as constipation, decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering LDL ("bad cholesterol"), and may also help with weight management."

Tip! Make sure each product is actually made from whole grains. Words like "wheat," "multi-grain," or "100% wheat" doesn't mean that the product contains the whole grain. The best way to identify whether or not it contains whole grains is to look at the ingredient list on the nutrition label and see if the first few ingredients are "whole wheat," "whole grain," "whole oats," or contain the key word "whole."

Tip! Another way is to look for the Whole Grains Council symbol on the product packaging. This is an easy-to-read symbol that tells you the amount of whole grains per serving, and also reminds you that 48 grams of whole grains are recommended per day.

Tip! Look for whole grain food, like brown rice, barley and oats, sold in bulk. Bulk items are usually found in self-serve bins or barrels and allow customers to fill their own bags with as little or as much as they want to buy. Often, bulk items are cheaper because you aren't paying the extra price for packaging, advertising or branding.

Tip! Buy the raw product whenever possible. When whole grains are further processed into other foods, like bread or pasta, or even into pre-prepared mixes or dinners, the cost you pay increases. Instead, buy a bag of brown rice or oatmeal and prepare it at home yourself and add whatever fixins' you want to create your own whole grain dish for less! If you do buy the raw product, here's a helpful chart explaining how to store your whole grains.

So, where do we find these affordable whole grains? Most places you shop for food will have a basic selection of whole grain options, maybe with more exotic options too, like quinoa or farro. For examples, see the list below for common and affordable options for whole grain foods that are available at a large grocery retailer. Don't forget that if you use a LINK card, many of these foods are eligible to be bought with your SNAP benefits. Use the tips above to help you search for whole grain options that are SNAP-eligible.

Prices for store-brand whole grain foods/food products at a widely available large grocery retail store:

  • Brown rice, raw: $0.88 (16 oz bag, 10 servings), $1.44 (32 oz bag) = Less than 10 ₵ per serving!

Let's compare! Buying raw brown rice is cheaper than the pre-prepared items!

Ready-to-make pouch of whole grain rice: $1.84 (serves 2) = $0.92 per serving

Boxed instant brown rice: $1.68 (serves 9) = $0.19 per serving

  • Whole wheat spaghetti: $1.00 (13.25 oz box, 7 servings) = $0.08 per serving
  • Whole grain oat cereal O's: $2.18 (14 oz box), $2.74 (18 oz box)
  • Whole grain wheat flakes cereal: $2.78 (17.3 oz box, 17 servings) = $0.16 per serving
  • 100% Whole wheat hamburger buns: $1.58 (8 buns) = $0.20 per bun
  • Whole grain wheat and barley cereal: $2.50 (24 oz)
  • Crunchy granola bars: $2.00 (8.9 oz, 6 (2-bar) pouches) = $0.33 per serving
  • Popcorn (unpopped): $1.88 (32 oz bag, 25 servings) = $0.08 per serving
  • Oatmeal (old fashioned oats): $3.18 (42 oz)
  • Whole wheat crackers: $2.48 (16 oz)
  • Whole grain tortillas: $1.78 (16 oz bag, 8 tortillas) = $0.22 per tortilla
  • 100% Whole wheat bread: $1.50 (20 oz)

Let's compare! Whole wheat bread is at most 62₵ more expensive, so not by much!

White bread: $0.88 (20 oz)

Wheat bread: $1.38 (20 oz) - *Does not contain whole wheat*

 

Whole grain foods really can be affordable, and remember that the health benefits far outweigh the cost.

 

Wishing you the best of health,

Whitney Ajie

Extension Educator, INEP

 

Big thanks to Leia Kedem and Jenna Smith, Nutrition and Wellness Extension Educators, for their informative blog posts about whole grains.

Sources:

  1. Making half of your grains whole, Leia Kedem, University of Illinois Extension, http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/weekly/120807.html
  2. Are you choosing whole grains?, Jenna Smith, University of Illinois Extension, http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/facts/130430.html
  3. Storing whole grains, Whole Grains Council, http://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/storing-whole-grains
  4. Wal-Mart.com, Wal-Mart store

 



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