What is the difference between whole grains and refined grains? What are the health benefits of whole grains? What should I be looking for on food labels? Find out what I learned when I was looking for answers to these questions.
Grains were one of the first things I wanted to learn about when Tom and I began to make changes in our diet after his heart attack. I NEVER read the ingredients on labels, so I was thoroughly confused when I read the labels on the whole wheat pasta and the 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 did not know why they were better.
After hours upon hours of research, I feel like I learned the entire history of grains. I’m sharing some of the answers I found to be the most helpful without giving you the whole history.
What Is The Difference Between Whole Grains and 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 their 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.
What Are The Health Benefits of Whole Grains?
Whole grains contain disease-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants. They also contain protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and fiber. 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 You Be Looking For On Food Labels When Purchasing Whole Grains?
The words used on many packaged 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. I discovered that 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 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.
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. Do what works best for your health and the health of your family.
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