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Whole Grains: Wheat, White Wheat, What?

whole grains

Guest blogger and registered dietitian, Katherine Fowler, shares her wisdom about whole grains for us this week.

Can you identify whole grains?  More importantly, are you getting enough of them?  The world of whole grains is not easy to navigate.  Claims on packaging can be confusing and misleading.  No need to worry!   The answers to your questions can be found here.

What exactly is a whole grain?

All grains actually start out as whole grains.  The original grain consists of three parts:

  • Bran:  Outer shell containing phytochemicals, B vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber
  • Endosperm:  Inner portion containing proteins, carbohydrates and B vitamins
  • Germ:  Inner core containing B vitamins, vitamin E, unsaturated fat, phytochemicals, and antioxidants

According to the Whole Grains Council, whole grains contain all three parts along with their nutrients after processing. It is believed that the fiber, vitamins, minerals and other substances contained in whole grains work together to provide maximum health benefits.

The making of white bread (many kids’ favorite!) involves processing the whole grain, removing (or “stripping”) the bran, germ and key nutrients, including much of the fiber.

Why go for whole grains?

Research shows that eating whole grains everyday can help reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes, and may normalize blood glucose levels, lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and decrease risk for some cancers.   Whole grains add texture and flavor to foods and may help you feel fuller between meals, promoting a healthy weight.

How much whole grain is enough?

In a study published in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers reported young people ages 15 to 23 are consuming less than 1 serving of whole grains per day!

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that most Americans make half of their grains whole, or have at least three servings of whole grains daily.  Sixteen or more grams of whole grain ingredients equals a full serving.

Note:  Recommendations for whole grains are different than recommendations for grams of dietary fiber.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 0.5 grams of fiber for every kilogram (2.2#) of body weight for children ages 2 and older.  Adding 5 grams to a child’s age is an easy and accurate way to determine minimum daily fiber needs. 

The Dietary Guidelines define a serving of whole grain as:

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, whole grain pasta or other whole grain
  • 1/2 cup cooked whole grain cereal
  • 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
  • 1 small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal

How do you know if it’s whole?

Many products contain whole grain and refined flour, so recognizing good sources is not clear-cut.  These tips will help you evaluate products:

1. Look for the Whole Grain Stamp, a symbol now on hundreds of packages.  The 100% Whole Grain Stamp identifies products that are 100% whole grain while the basic Whole Grain Stamp appears on products containing at least half a serving of whole grain.

2. Check the package label.  Many whole grain products do not bear a stamp. Some list grams of whole grain on the package, or label a product as “100% whole grain.”  Be skeptical if you see phrases like “made with whole grain” or if the word “whole” is not used.

3. Focus on the ingredient list.  If a whole grain is listed in the first few ingredients, the product is a good source of whole grain.  If enriched wheat flour, or white flour appears at the beginning of the list, it is not a good source.

A product containing some whole grain is better than one made solely from refined flour.  Some whole grains are better than none!

What about white wheat?

For those that prefer the taste and texture of white bread, select white whole wheat bread. White whole wheat bread is made with white wheat, a variety of wheat that is lighter in color and texture.  It offers the same benefits of traditional red wheat.  Remember, if the label doesn’t say “whole” white wheat, it isn’t a whole grain product.

A word on fiber

A high fiber food does not imply a food is whole grain.  Different grains naturally contain various amounts of fiber.  Food companies have started to add isolated fibers such as inulin, maltodextrin, and polydextrose to their products that increase fiber content, however, they do not provide the same health benefits of whole grains.

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