Grain products include items such as bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal, cereal, and tortillas. Unfortunately, most of the foods we eat are refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, pasta, and pretzels. Refined grains do not contain as many nutrients as whole grains because most of the nutritional value is processed out of them.
An unrefined whole grain contains all of the nutritional elements of the grain kernel. This includes the bran and germ. Whole grains contain more B vitamins, fiber, carbohydrates, minerals, and proteins.
White flour, which is the base of many of our foods, is made by refining whole grains. During the refining process, most or all of the bran and germ are removed. White flour that has been enriched has certain nutrients added to it, such as iron and some B vitamins (including folate). However, other important nutrients are lost, including vitamins E and B6, magnesium, copper, zinc, and phytochemicals.
Whole grains are a healthier choice because the ingredients they contain may help to lower the risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Soluble fiber, which is found in oats and barley, can lower cholesterol levels.
It is easy to get plenty of serving of grains everyday. The amount of servings an adult needs varies depending on age and activity level. The requirements range from about 5-8 servings per day. The following list gives you some examples of single servings of grains. Some on the list are refined grains, others are whole grains. Look at some of your favorites and determine where you can make substitutions.
The US Department of Health and Human services recommends at least half of the grains you eat be whole grains. The more whole grains you eat, the better off you are. Ultimately, you can make all your grains whole grains.
The trickiest part about eating whole grains is figuring out which grains truly are whole. To do this, check the nutrition label. The product is a whole grain if the first ingredient is whole wheat or oatmeal. Do not be fooled by brown breads, some are dyed to be that color. Also, a food label that reads wheat bagel, stoned wheat, or seven grain is not necessarily whole grain. The good news is that labels are standardized, making them easier to understand.
The following are whole grains:
Many cereal manufacturers recently switched to whole grain products. Be sure to read the box carefully.
There are many options for grains, so find foods you like. If you do not like one substitution, try another. It may take some time to make the adjustment, but in the end it will be worth the effort.
Eat Right.org—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
MyPlate.gov—US Department of Agriculture
Dietitians of Canada
Health Canada Food and Nutrition
DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 3, 2013. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Food groups: How many grain foods are needed daily? USDA's MyPlate.gov website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains_amount_table.html. Accessed Updated June 4, 2011. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Food groups: What counts as an ounce equivalent of grains? USDA's MyPlate.gov website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains_counts_table.html. Accessed Updated June 4, 2011. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Whole grains. United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/resource-library/whole-grains. Accessed June 2, 2012.
Whole grains and fiber. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Whole-Grains-and-Fiber_UCM_303249_Article.jsp. Updated February 19, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Last reviewed April 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.