The Whole Truth About Whole Grains

Sure, you know you’re supposed to eat whole grains, but that may be harder to do than you realize. While we eat plenty of grains, the typical American consumes less than one serving a day of whole grains—and whole grains provide a wealth of nutrients their refined versions lack. Plenty of research suggests a diet high in whole grains may help reduce your risk of developing heart disease and other conditions.

While all grains provide complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, whole grains offer more bang for your buck. The reason? A whole grain is actually a seed made up of three parts—the inner germ, from which a new plant would sprout; the endosperm, which makes up most of the grain; and the outside bran, containing most of the seed’s fiber. Eating the entire grain means you get all the nutrients and all the fiber of the seed. Yet most grains are refined or processed, during which the endosperm and bran are eliminated. That means refined grains have fewer vitamins and minerals, and less fiber than whole grains.

Opting for whole-grain versions over their refined cousins is a simple way to improve your nutrient intake. But that’s not always as simple as it sounds. Take the word “multi-grain.” Sounds good, right? Well, it may mean that the product contains more than one grain but not necessarily whole grains. To be sure, check to see that the word “whole” is the first word listed in the ingredients.

Whole grains include barley, brown rice, wild rice, bulgur, oatmeal, whole wheat, and popcorn. Look for foods containing at least 3 grams of dietary fiber/serving, and aim for three 1-ounce servings every day.