The Whole Scoop on Whole Versus Refined Grains
Are you hesitant about having that slice of bread, bowl of cereal, or plate of pasta? In an era of low carbohydrate diets and numerous warnings about the role of grains in weight gain, it is easy to see why. The good news is that there is only a grain of truth to the bad press about grains. What you need to do is cut back on refined grains and eat more whole grains. Here is why.
Crude Facts About Refined GrainsThe grains that make up the typical American diet are highly refined. The refining process results in the loss of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. What this means is the most nutritious part of the grain is removed during the milling process. It also strips them of disease-fighting components like B vitamins, iron, vitamin E, selenium, and fiber. Examples of refined grain products include:
- White breads
- Baked goods (made with white flour)
- White pasta
- White rice
- Some cereals on the grocery shelf
Why Whole Grains Are More WholesomeWhole grains are what they are called. They include all 3 parts that make up the entire grain: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. Because they have not gone through the refining process, they are good sources of dietary fiber, B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, and selenium. Whole grains can help with the following:
- Reducing constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticular disease
- Lowering cholesterol levels and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reducing the risk of cancer
- Reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Increasing absorption of nutrients, because they take longer to digest
Choosing Whole GrainsExamples of whole grains include the following:
- Whole wheat
- Brown, wild, or whole grain rice
- Whole oats
Look at IngredientsLook at the ingredient list on the product. You should find whole grain or whole wheat. Note that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. So the higher up on the list the more whole grain is in the product. If white flour is the first ingredient, that means that, by weight, there is more white flour than any other kind of flour in the product. If whole grain or whole wheat is listed first you have a product with 100% whole grains, but don't dismiss products that have these options listed further down the ingredient list. They can contribute to your overall whole grain count.
Don’t Be FooledDo not be deceived by the list of ingredients or advertising on the product labels. Here are some things that you may find on a label, but they may not be whole grain products:
- Wheat flour
- Stoned wheat
- Made with whole wheat
- Made with whole grain
- Made with oatmeal
Eating More Whole GrainsThere are many benefits to eating more whole grains. They’re more nutritious, healthful, and filling than refined grains, and have more texture and flavor. The USDA dietary guidelines from 2010 recommend consuming a minimum of 3-4 ounces of whole-grain products per day for adults. At least half of your total intake of grains should be from whole grains. Stock your pantry with whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole grain bread, and whole wheat pasta, crackers, breads, and rolls. If you have trouble getting started, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.
American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
Dietitians of Canada
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How many grain foods are needed daily? US Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/printpages/MyPlateFoodGroups/Grains/food-groups.grains-amount.pdf. Accessed October 22, 2014.
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Understanding constipation. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/constipation. Updated January 2013. Accessed October 22, 2014.
What is a whole grain? American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/kids/tip.aspx?id=6442477233&terms=whole%20grains. Updated June 2013. Accessed October 22, 2014.
Whole grains: Tips, advice, and guidance for moms. USDA Food and Nutrition Service website. Available at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/WholeGrainsTipAdviceGuidance.pdf. Updated November 19, 2012. Accessed October 22, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 10/2012
- Update Date: 10/22/2014