Eating Whole Grains
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Eating Whole Grains

Here's Why Grains Are Good:

Grain products, such as bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal, cereal, and tortillas, are generally low in fat and provide fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and some phytochemicals. Most of the foods we eat are refined grains. For example: white bread, white rice, pasta, pretzels, etc. Refined grains do not contain as many nutrients as whole grains.

A whole grain is the entire edible portion of a grain. A whole grain includes three parts, each with a valuable store of nutrients:

  • Bran—contains large amounts of B vitamins, minerals, and fiber
  • Endosperm—houses most of the protein and carbohydrate, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals
  • Germ—contains B vitamins, minerals, and some protein

White flour, which is the base of many of our foods, is made by refining whole grains. During the refining process, most or all of the bran and germ are removed. White flour that has been enriched has certain nutrients added to it: iron and some B vitamins (including folate). However, many other nutrients are lost, these include:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamins E and B6
  • Minerals: magnesium, copper, zinc
  • Phytochemicals

Whole grains are a healthier choice because the ingredients they contain can help lower the risk of many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Soluble fiber (found in oats and barley) can lower cholesterol levels. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, are believed to help prevent atherosclerosis and lower the risk for coronary artery disease.

Here's How to Get Your Grains:

It's easy to eat six grain servings per day. One serving is equal to:

  • 1 cup flaked cereal
  • ½ cup of cooked oatmeal, grits, or cream-of-wheat cereal
  • ¼ cup nugget or bud-type cereal
  • 3 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 1 pancake or waffle, 4 inch diameter
  • ½ English muffin, hamburger roll, pita, or bagel (frozen kind; those from bagel shops can be up to 4 servings)
  • 1 slice of bread or dinner roll
  • 1 tortilla, 6 inch diameter
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or barley
  • ½ cup quinoa, bulgur, millet, or other whole grain
  • ½ cup pretzels
  • 3-4 small crackers

Finding the Whole Grain

The trickiest part about eating whole grains is figuring out which grains truly are whole. To do this, check the ingredient label. The product is a whole grain if the first ingredient is whole wheat or oatmeal. Don't be fooled by brown breads, some are dyed to be that color. Also, a food label that reads "wheat bagel," "stoned wheat," or "seven grain" is not necessarily "whole grain."

The following are whole grains:

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Popcorn
  • Some cold breakfast cereals, for example:
    • Cheerios®
    • Granola or muesli®
    • Grape-Nuts®
    • Nutri-Grain®
    • Raisin bran®
    • Shredded wheat®
    • Total®
    • Wheat germ®
    • Wheaties®
  • Some hot breakfast cereals, for example:
    • Oat bran
    • Oatmeal
    • Quaker Multigrain®
    • Roman Meal®
    • Wheatena®
  • Some crackers, for example:
    • Triscuits®
    • Ak-mak®


American Dietetic Association

Food and Nutrition, USDA


Canada's Food Guide

Dietitians of Canada


American Heart Association website. Available at:

United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at:

Last reviewed May 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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