The Whole Truth on Whole Grains

The Whole Truth on Whole GrainsEveryone seems to be talking about whole grains these days. And they have every reason to – whole grains are a vital part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, so it’s no wonder that fitness conscious people are sitting up and taking notice. The problem is that marketers and advertisers have picked up on that behavior and now the discussion about whole grains has become confusing to know what all the double speak actually means. Worry not. This simple glossary will guide you through the most popularly used terms so you can make informed decisions.

Whole Grain – literally, this refers to food items that include the entire grain or kernel just as it grows in nature. Brown rice, popcorn and quinoa are all good examples of whole grains.

Refined – White rice, bleached flour and most corn meals are refined grains, which means they have been processed for color, flavor or texture. The very nature of processing removes many essential nutrients from the grain, resulting in incomplete nutritional value.

Enriched – These are refined grain products that have had certain vitamins and nutrients added back in during processing. Most often this includes vitamin B, iron, and, at times, calcium. While an improvement over refined grains, these are not as nutritionally robust as whole grains.

Whole Wheat – although wheat kernels are ground into flour to make baked goods, the ‘whole’ in this case means that the wheat grain was not refined, bleached or otherwise processed before it is made into food. Be clear though. Honey wheat, wheat bran, bran and other products without the word “whole” in the description are indeed processed and refined to some degree.

Multigrain – perhaps one of the most misleading terms out there. To be classified as multigrain, a product need only include more than one type of grain in its makeup. That grain can be refined, enriched, whole or any mixture of the three. If bleached or refined appears in the ingredients list, the product is lacking in whole grain value.

Fiber – a good indicator of whole grain content, fiber occurs naturally in all whole grains. It is also the single most important component removed from products during processing. However, just because a product is high-fiber doesn’t mean it is definitely whole-grain. Fiber can also be added in the form of psyllium husk, polydextrose, phytates and other additives, so if you see these on the label instead of any whole ingredients, know that these are the sources of any dietary fiber. You will still be lacking the additional nutritional value whole grains offer.