Whole Wheat, Whole What?

Whole grains are being buzzed about all throughout the media, but many Americans do not understand the true definition of what “whole wheat” actually means and the benefits it can provide to your health.

Refined vs. Whole Grain: Whole Grain WINS the Battle Every Time

Refined grains go through a process called milling, which strip the grain of the bran and the germ (refer to the “Anatomy of a Grain” below).  Milling removes some of the most important nutrients such as fiber, B vitamins, Vitamin E, and many minerals.  Refined grains include white flour, white rice, white bread and degermed cornflower.  Refined grains are most commonly used because of it’s thinner texture, taste, longer shelf life, and price.

Whole grains refer to grains that are not refined, or have not gone through the milling process. This leaves the bran and the germ intact and leaves behind all the nutritious “stuff” – the fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains can either be consumed whole (such as brown rice and my favorite whole grain…popcorn!) or as an ingredient in many foods  (such as whole wheat breads and pastas).

Confused about whole grain vs. whole wheat?? …They are exactly the same thing!!

Types of Whole Grains

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn – including whole cornmeal and popcorn
  • Millet
  • Oats, including oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Rice, brown and wild
  • Rye
  • Sorghum (also called milo)
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Wheat – including varieties such as spelt, durum, bulgur, and cracked wheat

Americans Aren’t Getting Enough Whole Grains…Period.

Take a look at the figure below from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines For Americans.

Americans are only reaching 15% of the goal for whole grains and nearly 200% of the limit for refined grains!  To put it simply, we aren’t getting nearly enough whole grains in our diet (and this needs to change, stat.)

Health Benefits of Whole Grains

Nutrients in Various Types of Whole Grains

The health benefits of whole grains most documented by repeated studies include:

  • Stroke risk reduced 30-36%
  • Type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%
  • Heart disease risk reduced 25-28%
  • Better weight maintenance

Other benefits indicated by recent studies include:

  • Reduced risk of asthma
  • Healthier carotid arteries
  • Reduced risk of inflammatory diseases
  • Lower risk of colorectal cancer
  • Healthier blood pressure levels
  • Less gum disease and tooth loss

 How Much Should I Be Eating?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, written by the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services, suggests that at least half of grains should be whole grains. Or to make it simpler,aim for about 3-5 servings of whole grains every day.

Source: 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

LOOK AT THE FOOD LABEL – Look at the ingredients list. If the FIRST ingredient is whole grain or whole wheat, then it is likely it’s a 100% whole grain product. If whole grain is not the first ingredient listed, then there are other types of grains (not necessarily whole grains) in the product as well.

Look for the Whole Grain Stamps! There are two…

Food producers have the option of putting a “Whole Grain Stamp” on the front of a food package.  There are two types of stamps: a “Basic Stamp” and a “100% Stamp”.

  • Basic Stamp:  The food item contains at least 8 g, or half a serving, of whole grain…BUT may also contain some refined grains as well.
  • 100% Stamp:  The food item has all of it’s grains from whole grains, or a minimum requirement of 16 g of whole grains (which is a whole serving).

A few words of caution…

Folic Acid – Whole grains are not a natural source of folic acid.  Thus, look for items that are fortified with folic acid…the easiest source to find fortified whole grains is ready-to-eat cereals.  Folic acid is especially important for pregnant women in order to prevent the birth defect, spina bifida.




“2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans”. USDA & Dept. HHS.


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