01/06/2012 08:45 am ET Updated Mar 07, 2012

Weight Loss: My No. 1 Tip

I'm often asked, "If I were to change just one thing about my diet, what could I do to help me lose weight and/or improve my health?"

I'd definitely make my recommendation based on what I learned as the nutritionist for NBC's "The Biggest Loser" for 12 seasons. BL contestants personify overweight America. The habits that helped them and millions of Americans earn top ranking among obese nations of the world include:

• Have absolutely no idea how many calories their body really needs (and how many more they're actually taking in)

• Skipped breakfast and often, many other meals

• Didn't eat enough fruit or vegetables

• Didn't eat enough protein (lean protein)

• Didn't eat enough whole grains

• Ate too much white stuff: white flour, white pasta, white sugar, white rice, simple carbs

• Didn't feel they had time to plan ahead -- they found themselves grabbing something quick for a meal -- often consumed in the car or at their desk

• Often had enough calories in beverages alone to meet their daily caloric needs

• Didn't drink enough water

• Didn't exercise enough (if at all)

• Prioritized their spouse, partner, children and/or their jobs over their own health and well-being

There are so many small changes that can quickly make a big difference to improve our health and achieve an optimal weight. One easy step is lose the white stuff and switch to whole grains.

Easier said than done, I know. But here's the reason. White flour, white sugar, white rice, white pasta -- they're all great sources of calories. But that's it. They don't provide any valuable nutrients. The fiber and antioxidants have been stripped away and any vitamins they may contain have likely been added back in a process called fortification. There's little texture, less flavour and next to no fiber.

The ideal eating plan for a healthy weight (and to slow the aging clock!) focuses on the quality of the calories as much as the quantity. Those quality calories include whole grains. Many people think they're too much work or that they take too much time to prepare. It's easy to be intimidated by unfamiliar foods. But whole grains are actually very easy to prepare and relatively inexpensive. Understanding their valuable health benefits coupled with their plain old good taste really makes them a very seductive and easy change to make.

Whole grains or foods made from them contain all three components of a whole grain:

• The bran (or the outermost part of the grain kernel, which also contains fiber)

• The endosperm (or inner part, which is what's left in most processed grains)

• The germ (or the center of the grain kernel)

All three of these must be present in the same naturally-occurring proportions to be called whole grain (sometimes manufacturers process and refine grains and then add back some of these components to a highly-processed version).

By providing a complex form of carbohydrate, whole grains give sustained energy. A stellar source of fiber (and you know what that means), whole grains also have incredible health properties. That's due to the abundance of vitamins, antioxidants and protein they contain. And best of all, an intact whole grain has much more texture and flavor than their ultra-refined counterparts.

Whole Grains

• Amaranth


• Buckwheat

• Corn

• Millet

• Oats

• Quinoa

• Rice (brown and colored rice)

• Rye

• Sorghum (also called milo)

• Teff

• Triticale

• Wheat (e.g. farro, durum, bulgur, cracked wheat and wheat berries)

• Wild rice

For more by Cheryl Forberg, RD, click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.

For more on weight loss, click here.

Cheryl Forberg, RD is a James Beard award-winning chef, former nutritionist for NBC's "The Biggest Loser" and NYT bestselling author. Her latest book is Flavor First (Rodale). She lives on a farm in Napa, California. For plenty of scrumptious whole grain (and other) recipes, check out her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.