Whole vs. Refined Grains

Q: Why are whole grains healthier than refined grains?

A: The wheat kernel contains four main components: the germ – rich in oils, vitamins and minerals, the starchy endosperm, the nutrient- and fiber- packed bran coating and the inedible husk. A “whole grain” refers to a grain milled in its entirety, except for the husk. Examples of nutritious whole grains include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgar, corn, millet, quinoa, brown rice, oats and whole wheat. Refining grains removes the coarse parts of the kernel, which leaves only the starchy endosperm and causes the loss of fiber, vitamins and minerals.  All refined products (e.g. white bread, white pasta) are required to be enriched with iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate to combat deficiencies in these nutrients. Unfortunately, even enriched products remain nutritionally inferior to whole grains. For example, a slice of enriched white bread contains only 18% of the amount of vitamin B-6 that a slice of whole grain bread contains, and only a quarter of the amount magnesium and fiber.

The bottom line? Whole grains are much more nutrient dense than refined grains. When at the grocery store, do not judge by color alone! Look for products, such as breads, pastas, cereals and crackers, which contain “100% whole grains” or the word “whole” in front of the grain name on the ingredient list. For example, the ingredient label on a box of Cheerios tells us that the product is made from “whole grain oats.” Be cautious – “wheat bread” or “multi-grain crackers” may list  “unbleached enriched wheat flour” first on the ingredient list, which means it’s not made with healthy whole grains!

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11 Comments

Filed under Grains

11 responses to “Whole vs. Refined Grains

  1. Ellen

    Is whole wheat considered better than rye and is the combination bread – rye/pumpernickel – considered a good choice?

    • Most rye breads sold in the U.S. are not whole grain and the first ingredient listed on many rye bread nutrition labels is none other than “unbleached enriched flour!” This is probably because the loaf is made with a mixture of rye flour and refined wheat flour to obtain desired properties. While whole rye flour may be just as nutritious (if not more so) than whole wheat, the rye bread you find most often in grocery stores is generally less nutritious than 100% whole wheat bread. One slice of rye bread generally has 80 calories, 1-2 grams of fiber and 3g protein, while a slice of whole wheat bread is slightly higher in calories (100 per slice), but provides 4g fiber and 4-5g protein. If you enjoy rye bread, look for brands that list “whole rye” first on the ingredient label.

      The Pepperidge Farm Rye & Pump swirl bread also lists “unbromated unbleached enriched wheat flour” as the first ingredient on the label, showing us that it’s also not made with healthy whole grains. One slice of this bread contains 80 calories, 1g fiber and 3g protein.

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