Whole grains are unrefined grains that contain the cereal germ, endosperm, and bran, which are the essential parts of the entire grain. They are good sources of fiber, and are rich in selenium, magnesium, and potassium. The bran is the fiber-rich outer shell, which contains minerals and B vitamins. The germ is the inner core that contains antioxidants, B vitamins, and vitamin E. The endosperm is the middle layer, containing carbohydrates and proteins. In contrast, refined grains only retain the endosperm, and contain fewer amounts of fiber and nutrients, as a result of the milling process. Examples of refined grains are white bread, white rice and white flour.
Examples of whole grains include:
- Brown rice
- Corn (including popcorn)
- Triticale (A wheat-rye hybrid)
- Whole wheat
- Wild rice
- Scientific studies have shown an association between consuming whole grains as part of a low-fat diet and a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Dietary fiber, which is a component of whole grains aids digestion by helping stool pass quickly through the intestines.
- Whole grains seem to be associated with a reduced risk of a number of gastrointestinal cancers as well as hormone-dependent cancers.
- Dietary fiber decreases LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and triglycerides and increases HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
- Whole grains are comprised of B vitamins such as folate, thiamine and niacin, which are essential for a healthy nervous system.
- Some scientific studies show that people who eat whole grains regularly as part of a healthy diet are less likely to gain weight over time.
How much is needed?
It is recommended for individuals to consume at least 3 servings of whole grains daily, in order to reap substantial benefits. The following measurements equate to one serving size of whole grains:
1 slice bread or 1 ounce muffin
1/2 cup cooked rice, bulgur, pasta
1 ounce dry rice pasta, or grain
1 cup cereal flakes or 3/4 cup cooked cereal
Choose foods that name whole grain ingredients such as whole wheat, whole oats, or millet first on the label’s ingredient list. Foods labeled with”100% wheat,” “multi-grain,” or “bran” are typically not whole grain products. Remember: Whole wheat is a kind of whole grain. However, not all whole grain is whole wheat.
Tips to boost whole grain intake
Start your day off with eating whole grains for breakfast. Some ideas are a slice of whole grain toast, whole grain English muffin, whole grain bagel or oatmeal.
Substitute regular wheat bread for whole grain bread.
Have whole grain crackers, whole grain snack bars or popcorn as snack options.
For main dishes, switch to brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat pasta.
Be open to incorporate other whole grains you may have never tried such as triticale or buckwheat into your meals.
Try salads with grains such as quinoa.
Thicken soups with whole meal flour.
Bake with whole wheat or whole grain flour.