Whole Grain Facts
By Ashley Carpenter, RD
What is a whole grain?
The term whole grain means that the entire kernel including the bran and germ is left intact during processing (see chart below for examples). Unlike whole grains, refined grains are missing parts of the kernel, and consequently are missing many of the nutrients and health benefits. Without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, along with at least 17 key nutrients.
What are the benefits?
Eating whole grains instead of refined grains lowers the risk of constipation and many chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Whole grains contain vitamins and minerals, along with disease fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber. Studies show that whole grains help with weight management. Whole grains are high in fiber, which is known to affect feelings of fullness and satisfaction. Scientists speculate that whole grains and fiber may affect the hormones that send the signal to your brain to tell you that you’ve had enough to eat.
Not All Fiber is Created Equal: Isolated vs. Naturally Occurring Fiber
Food manufacturers are becoming aware of the public’s interest in increasing dietary fiber. They are adding fiber to foods that never had it before, such as yogurt, ice cream and drink mixes. Consumers are led to believe these “isolated” fibers are equal to the fiber that occurs naturally in food. Isolated fibers have not been shown to reduce the risk of disease or constipation as effectively as the naturally occurring fiber found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. When reading food labels, you will see isolated fibers such as inulin (from chicory root), polydextrin, and maltodextrin.
How to Buy Whole Grains
How do I know if a product is a whole grain?Stear clear of misleading packaging that sounds like they are wholesome such as honey wheat and wheat bread. Instead, check the ingredient list. The first item should always be a whole grain. Make sure the first word says “whole,” not just, for example, “wheat flour.” Oat bran, rice bran, wheat bran and wheat germ aren’t quite whole, but they are nutrient rich as opposed to refined grains where the bran and germ are lost.
Label Terms to Show Whole versus Refined Grain
Whole grain (name of grain)
Stone-ground whole (name of grain)
Made with whole wheat