Friday’s Flavor: The Whole Truth on Whole Grains

Carbohydrates are necessary for bodily functions. They provide the fuel source for our brain, many important nutrients and the ever-so-important fiber for our bodies.

Main sources of carbohydrates come from grains. Grains are the seeds of plants used to make flours, breads and pasta. They are a staple in the diets of most population groups providing the majority of calories. In addition, grains are the principal crops that have made the continuation of humankind possible.
All grains are similar in structure. If you look at a grain kernel you will find three main parts: bran, endosperm and germ.

The outer layer is known as the bran and is a good source of fiber and many B vitamins. The endosperm is the large, inner portion that is mostly starch. It contains minimal vitamins. Finally, the germ is the portion of the kernel that will sprout a new plant. Inside the germ you will find healthy fat, vitamin E and B vitamins.

Most often you find grain products refined. This means the grain has been milled, a process that removes the bran and the germ portions. What’s left? The starchy endosperm and very few vitamins because the other portions have been removed, so have all the vitamins and minerals they contained.

In order to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies, the FDA mandated some of the lost vitamins and minerals be added back to the milled grain in a process called enrichment. These include niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, iron and folate. But unfortunately, not all the missing nutrients are added back.

To reap all of the benefits, start eating whole grain foods. Whole grain foods are made with the entire kernel, not refined, making them a good source of vitamins and minerals. They are also an excellent source of fiber, which helps you feel fuller longer. Always look at the ingredient list before purchasing or eating to make sure the food you are choosing is actually a whole grain product. The very first ingredient should read “whole,” not “enriched.”

Even if the product claims to be “made with whole grain” on the front, check the ingredient list on back. Manufacturers can put this on the front if they have included some whole grain, but most likely the product’s main ingredient is enriched.

Also, watch out for multi-grain products. This just means they are made with more then one grain, not necessarily whole grain.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest we increase whole grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grain. Many whole grain foods come ready-to-eat like a variety of breads, breakfast cereals and pasta.

Other examples of whole grain foods include: popcorn, brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta and crackers and oatmeal.

There are some easy ways to incorporate more whole grains into your meals and snacks:

Look for whole wheat pastas, instead of enriched.

Make sandwiches with whole-wheat bread or wraps.

Use corn or whole wheat tortillas instead of flour tortillas.

Swap whole wheat bagels for plain bagels.

Try corn chips or Sun-Chips with your salsa.

Choose wheat or shredded wheat crackers.

Whole grains are packed with a lot of nutrients.  Choose to eat whole grain foods and you can get the maximum nutrition found naturally in grains.

Revised for accuracy by Amanda Newell, RD, Bradley Dietetic Internship Director and Assistant Professor in Family and Consumer Sciences.