What’s the Deal with Whole Grains?

Some people swear that whole grains are necessary for a healthy diet, while others swear off grains altogether. Are whole grains good for you, or are whole grains bad for you? What exactly is a whole grain, for that matter? Here’s some information that can help you understand whole grains.

What is a whole grain?

Foods made with whole grains use the entire grain kernel – bran, germ, and endosperm. Whole grains can come from any type of cereal grain – wheat, barley, brown rice, rye, etc. This also include pseudocereal grains such as quinoa and buckwheat.

Common whole grain foods include the grains themselves, oatmeal, popcorn, breads, brown rice, and foods made with whole grain flour.

Refined grains vs. whole grains

Whereas whole grains use 100% of the grain kernel, refined grains separate the bran and germ. This gives the grain a finer texture and increases shelf life. However, the refining process also removes nutrients such as dietary fiber, iron, and B vitamins.

Refined grains include white flour, white rice, and white bread. Refined grains are usually enriched to re-add nutrients, but this does not include the addition of dietary fiber.

Benefits of whole grains

What are the health benefits of whole grains?

  • Whole grains provide many nutrients that are essential to good health and functions of the body.
  • Whole grain foods are a good source for dietary fiber, B vitamins such as riboflavin and folate, and minerals such as iron, selenium, and magnesium.
  • Diets including whole grains are associated with reduced risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • Whole grains may help improve heart health by managing hypertension, protecting against arterial plaque buildup, and reducing the risk for stroke.
  • Whole grains can also help with weight management and promote good GI health.

Do you need grain in your diet?

For years, whole grains were considered a staple of a healthy diet. However an increase in the number of popular, trendy diets that suggest eliminating gluten or limiting the amount of carbohydrates a person consumes has added confusion as to whether or not whole grains are good for you.

The USDA recommends that adults consume 5-8 ounces of grain each day, and that at least half of all grains be whole grain.

Still, many people are convinced that even whole grains aren’t healthy. One argument is that whole grains are less nutrient-dense than vegetables. It’s true, if you compare the amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals you get from whole wheat bread with the amount you get from the same quantity of spinach, spinach is the clear winner. White bread? Not even in the contest.

Will you — or your kids — eat the same amount of spinach as whole wheat bread? Switching from white bread to whole wheat bread may be a more realistic plan than trying to get all your fiber needs from fresh vegetables.

Another concern is that packaged goods labeled “Made with whole grains” may deceive us into choosing foods made with refined flours, sugar, and other unhealthy ingredients. Quick tip: check the fiber content on the nutrition label. If the food contains fewer than 3 grams of fiber per serving, it’s not a whole grain food. Check sugar grams while you’re there, too, and use that information to decide whether that food is a good choice for you and your family.

Always consult your primary care physician before making drastic lifestyle changes such as eliminating entire food groups from your diet.

Your primary healthcare provider is there to help you make health decisions based on your individual health needs. Be sure to meet with your primary care doctor on a regular basis. Set up an appointment with a MANA physician today!