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!