Here’s what whole-grain means and how to identify these healthier products.
Believe it or not, you’re likely eating whole grain foods without knowing it — and that’s a good thing. The movie theater popcorn you munched on last night or the warm bowl of apple cinnamon oatmeal you popped in the microwave this morning are both whole-grain foods. However, despite national recommendations and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, Americans continue to eat more refined rather than whole grains in their diets. Take a peek at this whole-grain guide to become a more educated consumer and incorporate whole grains into your life.
What is a whole grain?
All grains are the seeds of grasses and are considered to be whole grains in their natural state. By definition, a whole grain is a grain that contains three parts: the bran, germ and endosperm.
1. Bran: Contains B vitamins, fiber and minerals.
2. Germ: Contains antioxidants, B vitamins and vitamin E.
3. Endosperm: Contains carbohydrates and protein.
Unlike refined grains, whole grains maintain all three nutrient-rich parts of the grain kernel during processing. Refined grains, such as white flour and white rice, are missing one or more of these three distinct parts. As a result, refined grains are often “enriched” to add back missing nutrients; however, the nutrients are added back in different amounts and are not considered “complete” like whole grains are.
One whole grain serving = 16 grams
Common whole grains include:
• 100 percent whole-wheat bread • Barley • Corn • Oats • Popcorn • Quinoa • Rice (brown) • Whole grain pasta/crackers/cereal (hot or cold)
Health benefits of whole grains
Whole grains provide a variety of health benefits. Research has shown that whole grains:
- Reduce constipation – whole grains help maintain healthy bowels.
- Aid in weight management – whole grains keep you full for a longer period of time, therefore reducing hunger.
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Provide fiber, minerals and vitamins necessary for overall health.
How much is enough?
It is recommended that half of grain intake come from whole-grain sources. Choose MyPlate is an educational resource for understanding the daily recommendation for both grain and whole-grain foods based on sex and age.
What about the term “multigrain?”
Foods labeled as “multigrain” are considered a “partial whole-grain food” because they contain a combination of both whole and enriched grains. While they do not contain 100 percent whole grain, multigrain foods can help you reach your daily whole-grain goal.
Identifying whole-grain products
Follow these three simple steps for identifying and selecting whole-grain products while shopping at the grocery store:
- Check the front of the package. Scan the front of the product package for terms such as “whole grain/oats,” “100% whole wheat” or “brown rice.”
- Read the ingredient list. The first three ingredients listed should contain a key term such as “100% whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour,” “whole oats or whole oat flour,” “whole grain cornmeal,” “stoneground whole (grain)” or “wheatberries.”
- Look for additional claims or logos.
• Claims: Products that have the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s whole-grain health claim on the front of the package contain whole-grain ingredients. Look for this statement: “Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturate fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.”
• Logos: The Oldways Whole Grain Council has approved two types of Whole Grain Stamps. Check to see if the product has one of the following yellow and black stamps:
— Basic Stamp: Must contain 8 grams of whole grains (a one-half serving of whole grains); can also include refined grains.
— 100% Stamp: Must contain 16 grams of whole grains (one serving of whole grains); all grain ingredients are whole grains.
Important note: Fiber content alone does not indicate a whole-grain food. Checking the label for the amount of fiber will not reveal whether or not a product truly contains whole grains.
Lindsay MacNab, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, health nut and deep dish pizza addict from the wonderful windy city of Chicago. She was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs and received both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Diet & Exercise from Iowa State University. She was a 2015-2016 dietetic intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Following her internship, Lindsay aspires to combine her passion for nutrition, writing and health and wellness into a nutrition communications career that she will love for a lifetime.