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Whole Grains are the Whole Package

These Natural Grains Pack a Nutritional Punch
  -- By Leanne Beattie and Becky Hand, Registered Dietitian
Health experts agree that we need to eat more whole grains for optimal health.  For years, epidemiological studies have found health benefits in people who eat whole grains, including a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, a decrease in heart disease and certain cancers, and less unwanted weight gain.  
Furthermore, a recently released "experimental study" resulted in two papers published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and more evidence that whole grains might be superheroes. In the eight-week, randomized trial, 81 subjects were assigned to a strictly controlled weight maintenance diet that included either whole grains or refined grains. In a comparison of the whole-grain diet versus a refined-grain diet, researchers found that participants in the former group absorbed 92 fewer calories, had greater fecal output and experienced a boost to their metabolism resulting in calories burning even while at rest. Researchers estimate that the amount of extra calories burned would be equivalent to a 20 to 30 minute walk and a possible five pounds lose annually.
Based on the same study and subjects, another group of researchers also determined that the results showed a favorable effect of the whole-grain diet in creating a healthy gut environment and more positive immune responses. The two combined make quite a case for whole grains, indeed.
In fact, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that refined grains be replaced with whole grains, aiming for at least three servings daily for females and four servings for males. As you can see, there's no need to fear whole grains—they aren't the enemy. However, consumers are often perplexed by their unusual names, the cooking and preparation required, and how to serve them. 

What's in a Whole Grain?

Each grain starts its life as a whole grain. A grain is considered "whole" when it contains all of its original parts—bran, germ and endosperm—in the same proportions as when the grain was in the field.
When grains are processed and refined for breads, cereals, pastas and flours, the bran and germ are removed, leaving behind the white endosperm. During this process, grains become less nutritious, losing 25 percent of their original protein content and 17 other essential nutrients. True whole grains, on the other hand, are packed with antioxidants, healthy fats and fiber, plus vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, vitamin E, folate, vitamin K, magnesium, potassium, iron and selenium.
Take some of the guesswork out of the grocery store by familiarizing yourself with exactly what makes up a whole grain and what does not.
Yes, I'm a whole grain.
I contain all three grain parts in the original proportions.
No, I'm not a whole grain.
I do not contain all three grain parts in the original proportions.
I am maybe a whole grain.
You'll have to investigate further to determine if I am a whole grain.  See the clues below.
Whole grain (name of grain)
Whole wheat
Whole (name of grain)
Stone ground whole (name of grain)
Brown rice
Oats and oatmeal
Whole (name of grain) flour
Enriched (name of grain) flour
Enriched flour
Degerminated corn meal
(name of grain) bran
(name of grain) germ
Wheat flour
Durum wheat
Organic (name of grain) flour
Stone ground (name of grain)
If you're still unsure, dive into the nutrition label:

Today's Grains

The whole grains of today are actually as old as the hills. They have been a nourishing component for millions of people around the world.  The grains below, when consumed in a form that includes the bran, germ and endosperm, are examples of generally accepted whole-grain foods and flours:
If you're still confused, you can further explore the expansive world of grains and how to read labels by visiting the Whole Grains Council encyclopedia tool.

Adding Whole Grains to Your Diet

The easiest way to increase the amount of whole grains you consume is to substitute some processed grain products with their whole-grain equivalent. This is as simple as having a slice of whole-grain toast in the morning instead of using white bread, or using whole-wheat flour in pancakes.
While at the grocery store, be extra careful reading food labels, too. Words such as multigrain, stone-ground cracked wheat or seven grain don’t necessarily mean the product is made with whole grains. And color doesn’t automatically signal whole grain either—some brown breads are simply white bread with added caramel coloring.
With a few simple tweaks to your diet, you can add a whole lot of whole grains to any healthy eating plan.
Despite misinformation spewed by publicity seeking authors as well as bloggers searching for sensationalism, nothing really has changed. High-fiber, nutrient-rich, whole grains have been and are still one of the keys to good health. Now, we just have more evidence from well-controlled research studies to back it up.

Updated by Becky Hand, March 2017