Nutrition Articles

Whole Grains are the Whole Package

These Natural Grains Pack a Nutritional Punch

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Health experts agree that we need to eat more whole grains for optimal health. But most people don’t know what whole grains are. They have been shown to reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity, but knowing the health benefits doesn't help you find them in your local grocery store or learn how to cook with them.

The Definition of Whole Grain
Every grain starts as a whole grain when it grows from the earth. This whole grain (actually the seed or kernel of the plant) has three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.
  1. The bran is the outer skin of the seed that contains antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber. (You may have heard of wheat bran or oat bran, which are available in stores and are common ingredients in certain cereals.)
  2. The germ is the “baby” of the seed, which grows into a new plant when pollinated. It contains many vitamins, along with protein, minerals and healthy fats. (You may have seen jars of toasted wheat germ in stores, which can be added to a variety of foods to boost nutritional content.)
  3. The endosperm is the seed’s food supply that provides the energy needed for the young plant to grow. The largest portion of the seed contains carbohydrates, and smaller amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals.
So a whole grain is one that contains all three parts of the kernel.

When grains are processed and refined (the most common practice for making breads, cereals, pastas and flours), the bran and germ are removed, leaving behind the white endosperm. During this process, grains become less nutritious, losing 25% of their original protein content and 17 other essential nutrients. While manufacturers then "enrich" the flour with some vitamins and minerals, a naturally whole grain is still a healthier choice. Compared to refined grains (white bread, white rice, white flour), whole grains pack more protein, fiber, vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin E), and minerals (magnesium and iron), as well as some antioxidants not found in other foods.

Types of Whole Grains
Common types of whole grains include:
  • Wild rice, which is actually a seed
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat
  • Oatmeal and whole oats
  • Barley
  • Whole rye
  • Bulgur
  • Popcorn
Less common types include: amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and triticale (a hybrid of rye and wheat).

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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

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