Whole Grains 101

What makes a grain a whole grain, and why does it matter?
Article Photo

What Are Whole Grains?

Whole grains, or foods made from them, have not been refined and contain the entire grain seed, or kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm. Whole grains include wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and rye – when these foods are eaten in their whole, unrefined form.

Whole grains can be single foods, such as brown rice and popcorn, or ingredients in products, such as buckwheat in pancakes or whole wheat in bread. Whole grains are an excellent source of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins, and dietary fiber.

Refined grains are milled to remove the bran and germ to create a finer texture and longer shelf life. But the refining process also removes fiber, iron and many B vitamins.  Enriched grains are grains products with added B vitamins and iron — most refined products are enriched.

Health Benefits of Whole Grains

Medical evidence indicates that that whole grains may reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. People who eat three daily servings of whole grains reduce their risk of heart disease by 25-36%, stroke by 37%, Type II diabetes by 21-27%, digestive system cancers by 21-43%, and hormone-related cancers by 10-40%. Moreover, people who eat a regular diet with whole grains have a lower risk of obesity (as measured by their body mass index) and lower cholesterol levels.

A Serving of 100% Whole Grain Foods

What is a serving size of whole grain foods? It’s not simply the amount that fits on your plate or what you feel like eating! The U.S. Department of Agriculture 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans define a serving as:

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

These guidelines recommend that at least half of your daily grain intake should be whole grains.

16 Grams = One Serving of Other Foods

Many 100% whole grain foods, like crackers, waffles, and granola bars, aren't specifically listed in Dietary Guidelines, so it’s difficult to know what constitutes a serving. Other foods might contain significant amounts of whole grain – but also contain some refined grain. In both cases, a single serving of whole grains is equal to 16 grams of whole grain ingredients.

Look for the Whole Grain Stamp

The Whole Grain Stamp makes it easy to spot foods containing whole grains. Choose foods with the Whole Grain Stamp, and you can easily get your recommended three servings of whole grain each day.

The Whole Grains Council uses two stamps, the Basic Stamp and 100% Stamp, to indicate whole grain content

  • Products with the 100% Stamp have grain ingredients that are 100% whole grains. These products contain a minimum of 16 grams – a full serving – of whole grain per labeled serving.
  • Products with the Basic Stamp contain at least 8 grams – a half serving – of whole grain, but may also contain some refined grains. Any product that contains extra bran, germ, or refined flour will bear this stamp, even if it contains large amounts of whole grain

Each Stamp also lists how many grams of whole grain ingredients are in a product serving.

High Fiber May Not Mean Whole Grain

Fiber varies from grain to grain, ranging from 3.5% in rice to over 15% in barley and bulgur. Be aware that some high-fiber products may contain bran or other added fiber without having much, if any, whole grain. Remember, though fiber and whole grains have health benefits, they're not interchangeable.

Add Whole Grains the Easy Way

A small amount of whole grain translates into big health benefits and is easy to add to your diet. For instance, 16 grams, or one serving, of whole wheat flour, equal about 1-1/2 tablespoons.

  • Substitute half white flour with whole wheat flour in your regular recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes. Or be bold and add up to 20% of whole grain flour such as sorghum.
  • Replace one third of flour in a recipe with quick oats or old-fashioned oats.
  • Add 1/2 cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice, or barley to bread stuffing.
  • Add 1/2 cup of cooked wheat or rye berries, wild rice, brown rice, sorghum or barley to your favorite canned or homemade soup.
  • Use whole cornmeal for corn cakes, corn breads and corn muffins.
  • Add 3/4 cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey when you make meatballs, burgers or meatloaf.
  • Stir a handful of rolled oats in your yogurt for a quick, healthy crunch.

For more information on whole grains, contact Giant Eagle® at nutrition@gianteagle.com.

Source: Whole Grains Council