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Understanding Whole Grains

I often mention the importance of including whole grains in our diets. But what does ‘whole grain’ really mean and how are they identified?

Most whole grains are the seeds of grasses, called kernels. The term ‘whole grain’ is reserved for grains that are made up of the three edible parts of the original kernel: the bran, endosperm and germ. In contrast, refined grains have had the bran and germ parts removed. Without the bran and germ, the grain suffers a significant loss of nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber. Most of these refined grains are enriched (i.e., some nutrients are added back) with B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid, and the mineral iron. But what remains lost is the fiber and phytochemicals unique to the whole grain. In addition, according to the Whole Grains Council, about 25% of the grain’s protein is also lost.

The health benefits of whole grains include protection from cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, insulin sensitivity/resistance, obesity, premature death and certain cancers. The current health recommendation is that half of the grains we eat daily should be whole. That means about 3-5 servings of whole grain every day. Here is a partial list of whole grains (the gluten-free whole grains are *starred* only for reference):



Brown Rice*, includes colored rice


Corn*, includes cornmeal and popcorn


Oats, includes oatmeal



Sorghum* (or milo)


Wheat, includes spelt, farro, durum and forms like bulgur, cracked wheat, and wheat berries.

Wild Rice*

When shopping for whole grain products, look at the ingredient labels. Look for ‘whole’ listed as the first ingredient. And, when comparing similar products, choose the one with at least 2 grams of fiber listed per serving. Remember that ‘enriched’ does not mean whole. It means quite the opposite… that nutrients were added back to the grain because the nutrient-rich bran and germ were removed. In addition, ‘stone ground’, ‘multi-grain’, ‘cracked wheat’, and ‘100% wheat’ do not mean ‘whole grain’.

Myplate2yours has many whole grain recipes for you to enjoy. And, I am committed to continue providing new ways to include more whole grains into your everyday.

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