In case you aren’t aware, September is whole grain month. What is a whole grain? Whole grains are the entire seed or kernel of a plant. A grain is made up of three parts: bran, endosperm, and germ.
The bran is the multilayer outer skin of the kernel. It is tough, and its purpose is to protect the rest of the kernel from sunlight, pests, water and disease. It contains antioxidants, the B vitamins and soluble fiber.
The largest part is called the endosperm. It is the food supply for the germ, providing essential energy to the young plant so it can grow. It contains starch carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
The germ is the embryo or sprouting section of the seed that is often separated in the milling process because of its fat content, which limits flour’s shelf life. It contains many B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
Whole grains include: amaranth; barley; buckweaht; corn, including whole cornmeal and popcorn; millet; oats, including oatmeal; quinoa; rice, brown rice and colored rice; rye; sorghum (also called milo); teff; tritical; wheat, including varieties such as spelt, emmer, farro, einkorn, Kamut, durum and forms such as bulgur, cracked wheat and wheatberries; and wild rice.
Where to Find Them
In the past, you would have had to go to a health or natural foods store to buy these grains, but now you can find many of them at the supermarket. Whole grains have oils that eventually turn rancid. It’s best to refrigerate or freeze grains. Old grains, including flours, will have a stale odor if they have lost their freshness.
Gluten Free Grains
Individuals who have opted to abstain from wheat and gluten due to allergy or intolerance other whole grains such as amaranth, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, corn (meal and popped) millet and sorghum.
Some food manufacturers are using whole white wheat for whole-grain breads. It’s a different type of wheat that has a lighter color with a milder taste, but still has similar nutrients as the original “whole red wheat.”
Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. Without the bran and germ, about 25 percent of a grain’s protein is lost, along with at least 17 key nutrients. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins.
Most refined grains (98%) are enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains. If you see the word ‘refined,’ then you know it’s not a whole grain. Some examples of refined grain products are: white flour, degermed cornmeal, white bread, and white rice.
Foods labeled with the words “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “100% wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “seven-grain,” or “bran” are usually not whole-grain products. Color is not an indication of a whole grain. Bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients. Read the ingredient list to see if it is a whole grain. Use the Nutrition Facts label to pick whole-grain products with a higher % Daily Value (% DV) for fiber. Not all whole-grain products are good sources of fiber.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating three “ounce-equivalents” of 100-percent whole grains each day. At each meal, make sure to include some source of whole grain. Here are some examples of one-ounce servings (16 g whole grains):
- ½-cup cooked oatmeal
- ½-cup cooked brown rice (or other cooked grain), bulgur, or whole-grain pasta
- ½-cup cooked whole-grain pasta
- 1 slice of whole-grain bread
- 1 6” whole-wheat tortilla
- ½ of a 6” whole-wheat pita
- ½ of a whole-wheat English muffin
- 1/w of a whole-wheat hamburger bun
- 1 cup of whole-grain ready-to-eat cereal
- 3 Tablespoons wheat germ
- 2 whole-wheat rice cakes
Prevention of Chronic Disease
Studies show that eating whole grains instead of refined grains lowers the risk of many chronic diseases. Benefits are most pronounced for those consuming at least three servings daily. While three or more servings each day will optimize your health benefits, scientists and health experts agree that every bit of whole grain you eat contributes to your health. Slowly add more whole grains to put you on the road to better health.
Wheat is America’s most consumed grain, but unfortunately we don’t always consume whole grain products. Americans are guilty of eating predominately white, enriched starchy foods and not partaking of the full flavors and health benefits that whole grains offer.
With September marking Whole Grains Month, this is the perfect opportunity to embrace whole grains whole-heartedly. Try to make at least half of your daily grains whole grains. To celebrate Whole Grains Month check out wholegrainscouncil.org for more information on grains, recipes and labeling.
- USDA Choose MyPlate, choosemyplate.gov
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines
- Whole Grain Council, wholegrainscouncil.org