You may know that whole grains are good for you, but do you know why? Read on to discover what exactly whole grains are, how to locate them on a food label, and how to add more to your diet so you can start reaping more health benefits from your food!
Q: What is considered a whole grain?
A: From MashaFox-Rabinovich, MA, RD, LDN, CDE, outpatient dietitian at Washington Adventist Hospital, and by Shayna Frost, Sodexo dietetic intern:
A whole grain is the entire composition of a grain made in its natural form. It includes the bran, endosperm, and the germ of the grain.
- The bran is the outer layer of the grain that protects the germ from becoming damaged during the harvesting process and protecting the germ from enzymes within the body during digestion. It is comprised of fiber, antioxidants, and essential B-vitamins and minerals.
- The endosperm is the middle layer of the grain that is comprised of carbohydrates, proteins, and other B vitamins and minerals.
- The germ is the innermost part of the grain, which is comprised of more B vitamins and minerals, vitamin E, antioxidants, phytochemicals, proteins and unsaturated fats. The germ is also known as the “embryo” of the whole grain because it has the ability to sprout into new plants.
Examples of whole grains include brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, whole wheat bread, popcorn, wild rice, whole-wheat pasta, buckwheat, amaranth and millet.
What is considered a refined grain?
Refined grains are only the endosperm parts of the whole grain. To become refined, grains have had their bran and germ removed to provide a finer texture and a longer shelf life.
Examples of refined grains include white flour, white bread, white rice, couscous, corn tortillas, cornbread, flour tortillas, pitas, pretzels and grits.
Why are whole grains better than refined grains?
Whole grains are better because they contain more dietary fiber, iron, phytochemicals, unsaturated fats, antioxidants, proteins, and B-vitamins that are essential to a balanced diet.
Additionally, whole grains are flavorful, and they help slow down digestion so that we stay fuller for a longer period of time. Whole grains can help to improve blood cholesterol and reduce risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, hypertension, and other inflammatory conditions.
Tips for finding whole grains on a food label:
The following terms are indicative of whole grains:
- 100% whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, etc.
- Brown or wild rice
- Whole-grain corn
- Hulled barley
The following terms are NOT indicative of whole-grains:
- 100% wheat
How much of our grains should be whole?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends making at least half of your grains whole. However, the more grains that are whole, the better the nutritional benefits.
Tips for getting more whole grains each day:
- Add whole-grain cereals, or whole grain rolled oats to yogurt each morning for breakfast.
- Replace refined grains with whole grains such as breads, rice, pastas, and crackers.
- Enjoying an afternoon popcorn snack (Remember to choose butter and salt-free for better nutrition)
- Try a whole grain salad like tabbouleh or whole-wheat pasta salad
- Bake with whole-wheat flour instead of white flour
Look out for more healthy tips from our resident dietitian, coming soon! Do you have questions about food or dieting? We’d like to hear from you! Please share your questions in the comments section below.
- Whole Grains 101. Whole Grains Council: An Oldways Program. 2013. Accessed April 3, 2014. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101.
- Diabetes Care and Education. Healthful Eating with Whole Grains. October 8, 2010. Accessed April 3, 2014.