Are you hesitant about having that slice of bread, bowl of cereal, or plate of pasta? In an era of low carbohydrate diets and numerous articles warning about the role of grains in weight gain, it’s easy to see why. But the good news is that there’s only a “grain” of truth to the bad press about grains. Specifically, you should cut back on refined grains and eat more whole grains. Here’s why.

Crude Facts About Refined Grains

The grains that make up the typical American diet are highly refined. What this means is that the bran (fiber-rich outer layer) and the germ (the nutrient-rich inner part) of the grain are removed during the milling process. Only the endosperm (middle part) remains. Although this process makes grains easier to use in cooking, it strips them of many of B vitamins, iron, vitamin E, selenium, fiber, and other disease-fighting components. Examples of refined grain products include:

  • White breads
  • Baked goods
  • Pasta
  • Crackers
  • White rice
  • Corn flakes cereal

Enrichment

Many refined grain products are enriched, which means that some of the nutrients such as niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and iron, are added back. However, enrichment doesn’t restore insoluble fiber and other nutrients that are lost during the milling process.

Why Whole Grains Are More Wholesome

Whole grains contain the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. Because they haven’t gone through the refining process, they are good sources of fiber, B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, and selenium. They also contain plant chemicals called phytochemicals, which are believed to have many health-promoting effects.

Whole grains can help with the following:

Examples of whole grains include the following:

  • Whole wheat
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur
  • Corn
  • Whole oats
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Spelt

Choosing Whole Grains

How do you know if it’s whole grain? Don’t rely on the name or appearance of the product. Bread may be brown because it contains molasses, brown sugar, or food coloring, not because it’s whole wheat. Product names that conjure up images of health and “back to nature” can still be made with mainly white, refined flour.

Look at Ingredients

Look for the ingredient list on the product. It should always say “whole grain” or “whole wheat.” Note that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. If white flour is the first ingredient, that means that, by weight, there is more white flour than any other kind of flour in the product.

Don’t Be Fooled

Don’t be deceived by terminology. “Wheat flour,” “unbleached wheat flour,” or “stoned wheat” are not the same as whole wheat. Beware of products that say “made with whole wheat,” “made with whole grain,” or “made with oatmeal.” This does not tell you how much whole wheat, whole grain, or oatmeal is in the product. You may find that it is way down on the ingredient list.

Eating More Whole Grains

There are many benefits to eating more whole grains. They’re more nutritious, healthful, and filling than refined grains, and have more texture and flavor. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming three or more ounce-equivalents of whole-grain products per day, and making sure that at least half of your total intake of grains is from whole grains. Stock you pantry with whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole grain bread, and whole wheat pasta, crackers, breads, and rolls. Experiment with some delicious new whole grains and whole grain recipes—you’ll be wholly glad you did!