Grains were one of the first things I wanted to learn about when we began to eat cleaner. I NEVER read the ingredients on labels so I was thoroughly confused when I read the labels on the whole wheat pasta and bread we had in our pantry. I had no idea what I was supposed to be looking for. To be perfectly honest, I was purchasing whole wheat bread and pasta and occasionally brown rice because I knew they were better than white, but I had no idea why they were better.
What’s the difference between whole grains and refined grains and what are the health benefits of grains? What should I be looking for on food labels? These were all of the questions that I wanted answered. After hours upon hours of research, I feel like I learned the entire history of grains. I’m sharing some the answers I found to be the most helpful without giving you the whole history.
Whole Grains vs Refined Grains
A whole grain is made up of three parts, the bran, germ, and endosperm. In order for a grain to be considered whole, all three parts in their original proportions are needed.
Refined grains are missing one or more of its original parts which then strips the grain of a good portion of its nutrients, including one fourth of its protein.
White flour and white rice only contain the endosperm. The endosperm is the least nutritious part of the grain. It contains starchy carbs, some protein, and a tiny bit of vitamins and minerals. The bran, which contains important antioxidants and the germ which contains B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats are removed.
Some refined grains are required to be “enriched” because so many of the essential nutrients are lost during the milling process. Only some of the nutrients that are lost during processing are added back with synthetic vitamins and minerals. I used to think enriched on a label was a good thing. Now that I know what it means, I steer clear of purchasing anything that has been enriched.
What Are The Health Benefits of Whole Grains?
After finding out the difference between whole grains and refined grains, I wanted to know how whole grains were beneficial to my diet. Focusing on the shortcomings of refined grains and processed foods was something I did when I first started my research. Now I actively focus on the amazing health benefits of whole foods.
Whole grains contain disease-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants. They also contain protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and fiber. What does that mean for my health? According to Oldways Whole Grains Council consuming whole grains regularly provides several health benefits. Some of these include:
- Reduce Chronic Inflammation
- Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
- Reduce Risk of Stroke
- Reduce Risk of Type II Diabetes
- Reduce Risk of Obesity
- Support Healthy Digestion
What Should I Look For?
Okay, I determined whole grains are the way to go as part of my clean eating diet! Now what do I look for on those dang confusing nutrition labels? Let me tell you this took me a long time to get right!
The words used on many products are misleading. You may think you are purchasing food that is 100% whole grain but that may not be the case. A product may say whole grain on the packaging but may contain only a small percentage of whole grains.
I have found that it is so important to look at the ingredient labels. The most important word to look for is WHOLE. The bread and pasta that I was purchasing were NOT made with WHOLE wheat. The bread said wheat but it contained unbleached enriched wheat along with about 20 other mostly unhealthy ingredients. The pasta had durham wheat semolina. Semolina is a refined grain. So confusing! I made a chart to help clear up some of the confusion when trying to identify grains on ingredient labels.
Identifying Grains on Ingredient Labels
Some other whole grains include spelt, quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum, rye, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, farro and popcorn. A product labeled multi-grain contains more than one grain which may or may not contain whole grains. Once again you will have to check the ingredients to see if the grains are whole or refined.
If you would like a more comprehensive look into grains, check out Oldways Whole Grains Council. Oldways Grains Council is a non profit consumer advocacy group that has a plethora of information about whole grains.
I would be remiss if I did not include, that these days cutting out grains in order to live a healthier lifestyle seems to be a trend. Some people believe grains of any variety can be detrimental to your health.
As I stated in My Journey to Clean Eating post, there is no one size fits all when it comes to a sustainable healthy diet. Choosing not to eliminate whole food groups works best for me and for my family. Eliminating corn tortillas on Taco Tuesday, stir-fry with brown rice, oatmeal with fresh fruit, Greek chicken with tzatziki in whole wheat pita bread…nope not gonna work for this girl.
Oldways Whole Grain Council https://wholegrainscouncil.org/
American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Eat-3-or-More-Whole-Grain-Foods-Every-Day_UCM_320264_Article.jsp#.WnOJIPmnHIU