Incorporating whole grains and beans into your diet seems pretty simple. But how do you know what’s really whole grain to make healthy nutrition decisions for you and your family? “The nutrition label is the best tool consumers have for making informed, healthy food choices,” explains Tiffany Banow, RD, LD, of Happy Pantry Nutrition Solutions in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The nutrition label and ingredient list have important information to help you make healthy choices.

Eating Healthy: How to Choose Whole Grains
Whole grains are carbohydrates that provide a variety of micronutrients, like zinc and selenium, which may be hard to find elsewhere. Whole-grain foods are made from the entire grain seed, including the bran and germ. When whole grains are refined, some of these components are removed, taking valuable vitamins and minerals with them. Eating whole grains is good for your heart, and the soluble fiber can lower bad, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by up to 10 percent. Whole grains have also been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease.
Most Americans have no trouble eating grains — it’s the whole grain component that is most often missing in a meal. It can be hard to know what foods have real health benefits, and which provide empty calories. The keywords to look for are “whole grain” or “100 percent whole grain,” and they should be first on the ingredient list. Remember that you can’t identify whole grain by the color of the food — brown bread is not always whole wheat, and neither is bread labeled just “wheat bread.” The only way to be sure is to check the label.
Beyond being good for you, there are all sorts of tasty choices in the whole-grain category, including wild rice, whole rye, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, couscous, quinoa, whole cornmeal, and even popcorn.

Eating Healthy: How to Choose Beans
Dry beans and peas are a good source of vegetable protein, which makes them a good protein choice for vegetarians and others. Like whole grains, they provide lots of fiber as well as a wealth of nutrients. There’s less confusion when picking beans and peas. You can buy them dried in bags (they’ll need to be soaked in water for most recipes) or in cans — look for no- or low-sodium choices to avoid adding extra salt to your diet.
The wide variety of legumes includes kidney, lima, navy, black, white, pinto, soy, and garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas); black-eyed peas; and split peas.

Eating Healthy: Cooking With Whole Grains and Beans
Here’s how to best add whole grains and bean choices to homemade dishes.

Substitute 100 percent whole grain in favorite recipes. Jessica Begg, RD, of Flourish Nutrition and Wellness in Vancouver, British Columbia, says, “Grains such as bulgur, millet, and quinoa have a lower glycemic index and are higher in nutrients and fiber than white rice. Substitute these or other whole grains as a side dish or in soups or stews.”

Mix it up. Choose a variety of beans and grains in order to get a whole spectrum of nutrients and add excitement to your meals. One day, serve wild rice instead of potatoes or macaroni; the next day, mix up a cold salad of three or four types of beans with diced carrots in an oil-free dressing.

Enjoy natural flavors. While preparing whole grains, avoid adding a lot of salt and oil. Unlike plain rice, whole grains like couscous and barley have their own nutty flavors that don’t need salt or butter to be savored.

Add some spice. For even more variety, add spices to your whole-grain dishes. You can also try cooking brown rice or couscous in broth instead of water, and stirring in roasted nuts or dried fruit for an interesting twist.

Choosing whole grains and beans is important for good nutrition and general well-being, and can also add renewed zest to many old-standby dishes.