You know that whole grains are an important component of a healthy diet. But what exactly makes grains “whole”? We will take a look at whole grains in this installment of Simple Food Terms Explained.

What Are Whole Grains?

All grains begin as whole grains. Whole grains are the complete seed, or kernel, of a plant. The kernel contains three parts that are edible:

  • The bran is the outer “skin” of the kernel.
  • The germ is the plant’s “embryo.”
  • The endosperm is the biggest part of the kernel. It is the germ’s “food supply,” providing energy to the plant.

Grains are considered whole grains if all three original parts are still present in the same proportions as when the grain was growing in the fields. 100% of the grain’s original kernel must be present. If the grain is processed during cooking, the food should contain the same balance of nutrients found in the original grain seed.

Refined Grains and Enriched Grains

While many people confuse whole grains with enriched grains or refined grains, they are all different terms. Refined grains are not whole grains, because they do not contain all three original parts of the kernel. Refined grains have had the bran and germ removed. This extends their shelf life, but also removes some of their natural nutrients. When grains are refined, they lose about a quarter of their protein, and as much as two-thirds of other nutrients. Examples of refined grains include white rice and white flour.

When grains are enriched, some of the nutrients lost during the refining process are added back. Enriching does not replace all of the lost nutrients. Eating whole grains provide many more health benefits than eating refined or enriched grains.

Health Benefits of Whole Grains

Whole grains are an important source of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, minerals, and B vitamins. Eating whole grains is a key part of a healthy diet.

  • The fiber from whole grains may reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • Eating whole grains may help to lower blood pressure.
  • The B vitamins in whole grains support a healthy metabolism.
  • High-fiber foods like whole grains make you feel full sooner, so you consume fewer calories.

What Foods Contain Whole Grains?

At least half of the grains in your diet should be whole grains. Good sources of whole grains include whole-wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, or barley.

To help you easily identify whole grain products, the Whole Grains Council introduced the Whole Grain Stamp. As of August 2016, the stamp was in use in over 55 countries on more than 11,000 products.

There are three varieties of the Whole Grain Stamp.

  • 100% Stamp: All of the product’s grain ingredients are whole grains, and the product contains at least 16 grams (1 serving) of whole grain per serving.
  • 50% Stamp: At least half of the product’s grain ingredients are whole grains, and the product contains at least 8 grams of whole grain per serving.
  • Basic Stamp: The product contains “significant amounts” of whole grains, but less than 50% of the grain ingredients are whole grains. The product must have at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving.

Try substituting whole grains for foods containing refined grains, and enjoy the health benefits that whole grains offer.