A whole grain consists of the entire grain seed of a plant. This seed, also known as the kernel, is made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
Refining normally removes the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm. Without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, along with at least seventeen key nutrients. Processors add back some vitamins and minerals to enrich refined grains, so refined products still contribute valuable nutrients.
But whole grains provide more protein, more fiber and many important vitamins and minerals. Whole grains may be eaten whole, cracked, split, flaked, or ground. Most often, they are milled into flour and used to make breads, cereals, pasta, crackers, and other grain-based foods. A whole grain can be a complete food, such as oatmeal, brown rice, barley, or popcorn, or used as an ingredient in food, such as whole wheat flour in bread or cereal. Popular types of whole grains include whole wheat, whole oats/oatmeal, whole grain cornmeal, popcorn, brown rice, whole rye, whole-grain barley, and wild rice.
Food manufacturers have created new products and reformulated existing products to increase levels of whole grains. Some whole grain products are being made with “white wheat flour,” which comes from a naturally occurring albino variety of wheat. The term “white flour” has often been used to mean “refined flour,” so “whole white wheat flour” sounds like a contradiction in terms. But it is simply WHOLE flour – including the bran, germ and endosperm – made from WHITE wheat.
This flour resembles typical refined flour, but it has the nutrition and fiber of whole wheat. White wheat does not contain tannins and phenolic acid, compounds found in the outer bran of the red wheat commonly used to make whole-wheat flour. In comparison, white wheat has a mild, sweet flavor more similar to that of a refined grain than a whole grain.
Heart Disease: reduced risk of cardio-vascular disease; decrease low density lipoprotein (LDL), triglycerides, and blood pressure; increase high density lipoprotein (HDL)
Cancer: reduced risk of gastrointestinal cancers and hormone-dependant (endometrial and ovarian) cancers
Gastrointestinal health: alleviates constipation; decrease risk of diverticulosis and diverticulitis Diabetes: reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, maintenance of blood glucose levels Weight management: enhanced satiety, prolonged gastric emptying to delay return of hunger, and increased insulin sensitivity
The US Dietary Guidelines recommend that everyone should eat at least half their grains as whole grains – that’s at least 3 to 5 servings for adults and 2 to 3 servings for children. An adult serving is 1 slice of bread or ½ cup of brown rice.
More specifically a serving equals 16 grams of whole grains. Sometimes whole grain grams are specifically listed on a label and sometimes not. 16 grams per serving is considered an “excellent source.”
8 grams per serving is considered a “good source.” Fiber varies from grain to grain with ranges from 3 to 15%. High fiber products sometimes contain bran or other added fiber without actually having much, if any, whole grain. So, checking the fiber on a label is NOT a very reliable way to guess whether a product is truly a whole grain.