Whole Grain for Whole Benefits

By Patrice Powers-Barker, OSU Extension, Lucas County

The Truth Contributor

Eating whole grains as part of a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases like a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and other health problems. The general recommendation from The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to “make half your grains whole” meaning that out of all the grain food you eat during the day, at least half (if not more) should be whole grains verses refined or enriched grains.

Many Americans do not eat enough whole grains. Whole grains are naturally high in fiber. Grain foods are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, popcorn, and many other grains. So, what’s the difference between whole-grain, refined grain and enriched grains?

How the grain was milled determines if it is a whole grain or refined grain. The whole grain has all three of the key parts – bran, germ, and endosperm. The process of refining grain allows the bran and germ to be easily and cheaply separated from the endosperm. The refined grains, which are very common, are missing one or more of those key parts of the grain. White flour and white rice are both refined grains because the bran and germ have been removed. Refining a grain removes some of the protein as well as some of the nutrients. Enriching the grain means that some of the missing nutrients are added back to the refined grains. Because we understand the healthy advantages of whole grains, it’s healthier to just eat the whole grain.

Fortification is a little different in the sense that a nutrient is added to the food that was not originally there. A common example in grains is that bread and some cereals are often fortified with folic acid. If you mostly eat whole grains, (which are usually not fortified with folic acid), make sure you eat enough other foods that are rich in folate, including fruits, vegetables, and legumes. While folate and folic acid are important for everyone, it is especially important for women who could become pregnant or are pregnant for the health and wellness of mom and baby.

How can you tell if it’s a whole grain? Check the list of ingredients and look for whole grain listed as the first in the ingredient. The whole grain ingredient might be: whole wheat, whole rye, whole grain corn, whole oats, graham flour, oatmeal, brown rice, bulgur, or wild rice. Don’t use the color of foods to determine if they are whole grain. Caramel coloring is sometimes added to give some refined grains the appearance of being a whole grain. Also, read the Nutrition Facts Label. Whole grain products generally have at least three grams of fiber per serving.          

What about white whole-wheat bread? White whole-wheat bread is nutritionally similar to regular whole-wheat bread. If you like the taste and texture of white bread, but want the nutritional benefits of whole wheat, look for white whole-wheat bread over refined white bread.

When it comes to serving sizes, MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, make the following daily recommendations: school-age youth need about 5 to 8 ounces of grains a day; adults need 6 to 8 ounces. One ounce is approximately,

  • 1 slice of bread
  • ½ an English muffin
  • 1 cup of cereal
  • 1 (4.5 inch) pancake
  • 1 (6 inch) tortilla
  • 7 square or round saltine or snack crackers
  • ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal

It is not unusual to eat more than one serving of grains with a dish. For example, a whole sandwich with two slices of bread is considered two servings of grains. Incorporate some of the following whole grains into your diet to celebrate Whole Grains Month in September!

  • Enjoy whole-grain cereal at breakfast. Many ready-to-eat (cold) cereals use whole grains but not all of them do, so check the ingredients list. Oatmeal is an example of a whole grain.
  • Use whole grain tortillas for tacos or a wrap for a quick lunch
  • Instead of white rice, try other whole grains like brown rice, wild rice, or quinoa
  • Add whole-grain flour or oatmeal when baking
  • Popcorn is a whole grain!
  • Consider donating a whole-grain food product to a local food bank or pantry.

Information from MyPlate, Mayo Clinic and The Whole Grains Council