When you’re roaming through the aisles in the grocery store, you’ll see certain packaged foods labeled as “whole grain.” Have you ever wondered what the term actually means? And, why do they come so highly recommended? Let’s take a look.
The Anatomy of a Whole Grain
The first thing you should know is that all grains start life as whole grains. In their natural state growing in the fields, whole grains make up the entire seed of a plant. This seed or “kernel” is made up of three edible parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
- Bran: The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the wheat kernel. It’s hard shell protects the grain and serves as a source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
- Germ: the germ is the smallest portion of the grain. It contains B vitamins, protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
- Endosperm: the endosperm is the largest portion of the kernel, and contains starch carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins and minerals.
Health Gains of Whole Grains
Research has shown that eating whole grains like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, and brown rice have great health benefits including reducing the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, and Type 2 diabetes.
Better than Refined & Enriched Grains
Whereas, whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel, refined grains have been milled to remove the bran and germ. Without these key portions, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, as well as much of the dietary fiber, iron, nutrients, and vitamins. Food processors attempt to add back some vitamins and minerals to enrich refined grains, but they don’t add back fiber.
So How Do We Identify Whole Grain Food Products?
It’s as simple as reading the label! Keep your eye out for words like “refined” and “enriched”, which indicate a product lacks all that whole grain goodness. Not only do whole grain products have a lower glycemic index (how much blood sugar levels are raised in response to a food), they keep you feeling fuller longer because of a increased fiber content.
Incorporating Whole Grains into Your Diet
It’s easy to swap out refined grains for whole (either partially or completely)!
- Whole wheat bread or whole wheat white for white
- Whole wheat pasta for refined grain pasta
- Quinoa for couscous
- Oatmeal or cream of wheat for refined grain cereals
- Popcorn for refined grain crackers
- Whole Grain and Flax Seed Waffles
- 10 Easy-to-Make Quinoa Recipes
- Sausage, Mushroom and Spinach Whole Wheat Lasagna
- Healthy PB Chunk Oatmeal Bars
- Creamy Avocado and White Bean Wrap
- Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
For more information on whole grains I suggest visiting the Grains for Health Foundation.