Today we see so many products in our supermarkets that are labeled “Whole Grain”. So, why are whole grains better? First we need to understand what whole grain means and then look at what whole grains can do for our diets. Let’s look at the physical difference between whole grains and refined grains and also the difference in nutritional value. Many people don’t even know what “whole grain” means when they see it on a package. The following is the official definition endorsed by the Whole Grains Council:
“Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.”
All grains start out as whole grains. They are then processed and often stripped of their fiber content and most of their nutritional value. A whole grain consists of three parts; cereal germ, endosperm and bran. Most refined grains are stripped of the cereal germ and the bran, leaving only the endosperm. This process removes most of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Nutrients are then added back into the grains synthetically but much less than they have in their natural state. This synthetic adding of nutrients is how manufacturers create “enriched” products.
What are the benefits to eating whole grains? According to the Whole Grains Council, studies show that eating at least 3 servings of whole grains daily instead of refined grains can have the following benefits.
reduced stroke risk
reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
reduced risk of heart disease
better weight maintenance
lower risk of obesity
healthier carotid arteries
lower risk of colorectal cancer
healthier blood pressure
less gum disease and tooth loss
Whole grains offer vitamins and minerals as well as disease-fighting antioxidants similar to, or even exceeding, those in fruits and vegetables. They also provide antioxidants that are unique and are not found in other foods.
What constitutes a serving of whole grains? Generally 16 grams of whole grain ingredients is considered a serving. For foods that are 100% whole grain, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans defined the following as servings:
1/2 cup cooked brown rice or other cooked grain
1/2 cup cooked 100% whole-grain pasta
1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, such as oatmeal
1 ounce uncooked whole grain pasta, brown rice or other grain
1 slice 100% whole grain bread
1 very small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal
Be sure to check ingredients carefully when purchasing “whole grain” products. Companies have found ways to make products sound healthier for you than they really are by adding the phrase, “a good source of whole grains”. When in fact the product actually contains mainly refined grains and huge amounts of sugar.
Try fresh sources such as brown rice, wild rice and oats. Purchase whole wheat pasta or a blend that’s part whole wheat and part white. Buy whole wheat breads and cereals. Or, just substitute a portion of your recipes with whole wheat flour instead of white flour.
There are many ways to enjoy whole grains and your body will thank you for it. Make a change today and start seeing the benefits of whole grains.