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What is a Whole Grain?

September 7, 2016 | By Abigail Willett, student intern with Community Outreach
Published in: Nurses Health Corner, Nutrition

A field of uncut grains

Tractor harvesting wheatSeptember is Whole Grain Month, but what is a whole grain? According to the Whole Grain Council, which is a nonprofit consumer health advocacy group, whole grains- and the foods made from whole grains, contain all of the naturally occurring parts of a grain seed. What this essentially means is that 100% of a grain kernel is present; it has not been stripped or enriched. Some examples of whole grains that you may already include in your diet would be 100% wheat, corn, barley, rye, quinoa, rice, popcorn, and/or oats.

It is recommended by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that the average adult eat 6 oz. of grains a day, and half of those grains should be whole grains. Examples of grains that may be present in your diet are bagels, tortillas, cereals, biscuits, bread, crackers, oatmeal, popcorn, rice, and pasta. Not all of these examples, however, are considered to be whole grains. There are two types of grains in most American's diets; whole grains and refined grains. Refined grains are stripped of their nutrients and enriched with various B vitamins, which our bodies need, but, after processing, do not have the fiber that is also essential to our daily diets. Some refined grains that you may eat on a regular basis would be plain or egg bagels, buttermilk biscuits, white, sourdough, French, or wheat (that is not labeled 100% wheat) breads, cornbread, saltines or snack crackers, plain and raisin English muffins, bran muffins, buttermilk pancakes, corn flakes, white rice and pasta, and/or flour and corn tortillas. Most of these grains based foods also come in 100% whole wheat or whole grain options.

It is acceptable to consume both whole and refined grains when trying to eat a balanced diet. Whole grains are preferred, but refined grains can be enjoyed in moderation. Whole grains are preferred because they have significant health benefits. Consuming whole grains as part of a daily diet can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, reduce constipation, and aid in weight management. Whole grains can also help to lower cholesterol thanks to dietary fiber, which helps keep you fuller, longer and absorbs cholesterol.

Wheat growing in a fieldIdentifying whole grains can be tricky, so here are some tips from the Whole Grain Council and the USDA:

  • Look for words such as "whole wheat", "whole [grain]", "stoneground whole [grain]", brown rice, oats, and wheat berries.
  • Do not assume that "wheat" without the word whole in front of it is a whole grain
  • Organic does not mean a whole grain
  • Multigrain usually does not mean a whole grain
  • Enriched, bran, and wheat germ typically mean the product is an enriched grain.
For more information about the health benefits of whole grains, as well as more tips for choosing whole grains and whole grain recipes check out these resources:

Information provided by Abigail Willett, student intern with Community Outreach.