Why are whole grains healthy?

When it comes to grains, it can be a bit hard to understand what the best choice is. In the grocery store, we don’t only see “white or wheat” as we may have thought of when we were kids. Now, there are whole grains, enriched grains, refined grains, and even bread labels that say things like “multigrain” or “seven grain.”


Let’s break down everything you need to know about whole grains, and why they should be your grain of choice.


What does whole grain mean?


If something is whole grain, that means that each part of the grain kernel is included in the final product - or, the whole kernel is in there. This includes the bran, germ, and endosperm (1). When you are looking for a grain, you’ll want to choose whole grains as often as possible. 


Refined grains are grains without the germ and bran, which helps the shelf life of these grains. When you think of refined grains, white bread, cereals, crackers, and desserts should come to your mind (2). These grains should be enjoyed in moderation, or just swapped out for their whole grain counterpart when available.


On the other hand, enriched grains are grains that look to add in some nutrients that were lost while the grains were harvested. Many refined grains have been enriched. While enriched grains add in some of the nutrients lost, it’s best to choose whole grains, as all of the nutrients are intact. 


Why should I choose whole grain?


As mentioned, whole grains contain every part of the grain kernel. When you choose a refined or enriched grain, you are choosing a grain that has lost some of the nutrients you could have gotten from the whole grain. The bran of the grain is filled with fiber, B-vitamins, and minerals, which are stripped away from refined grains. The germ of the grain is also full of nutrients, including vitamin E and healthy fats. When you choose refined grains, you are only getting the carbohydrate-filled endosperm of the grain. This is important, too, but you are missing out on nutrients you could have benefited from if you’d simply chosen a whole grain.


Which whole grains should I incorporate into my diet?

Sure, it’d be easy to say you should exclusively eat whole grains, but that would be quite difficult with the number of refined and enriched grains we encounter on a regular basis. You may not always be aware of which whole grains you are purchasing, but sometimes the label will make it clear to you. Here are some of the best whole grains you should incorporate into your diet, when you have the choice.


1. Oats

Oats, specifically steel-cut or rolled oats, are great additions to any diet. They are filled with fiber, vitamins, and minerals (3), and whole grain oats don’t have the added sugar of refined oats. 


2. Whole wheat

Some people may think that the terms whole grain and whole wheat are interchangeable, which is likely because of the number of whole wheat foods that are available to us. You can have whole wheat bread, pasta, rice or even baked goods. Luckily, whole wheat is extremely common, so it’s easy to find options that suit your taste.


3. Quinoa 

Don’t forget about quinoa! This complete protein packs lots of nutrients in its punch. WIth all nine essential amino acids, quinoa is a great alternative to rice (especially if you don’t have whole grain rice on hand).

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