Grain products, such as bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal, cereal, and tortillas, are generally low in fat and provide fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and some phytochemicals. Most of the foods we eat are refined grains (eg, white bread, white rice, pasta, pretzels). Refined grains do not contain as many nutrients as whole grains.
A whole grain is the entire edible portion of a grain. A whole grain includes three parts, each with a valuable store of nutrients:
- Bran—contains large amounts of B vitamins, minerals, and fiber
- Endosperm—houses most of the protein and carbohydrate and small amounts of vitamins and minerals
- Germ—contains B vitamins, minerals, and some protein
White flour, which is the base of many of our foods, is made by refining whole grains. During the refining process, most or all of the bran and germ are removed. White flour that has been enriched has certain nutrients added to it: iron and some B vitamins (including folate). However, many other nutrients are lost, these include:
Whole grains are a healthier choice because the ingredients they contain may help to lower the risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Soluble fiber (found in oats and barley) can lower cholesterol levels.
It is easy to get plenty of serving of grains everyday. The amount of servings an adult needs varies depending on age and activity level. The requirements range from about 5-8 servings. One serving is equal to:
- 1 cup flaked cereal
- ½ cup of cooked oatmeal, grits, or cream-of-wheat cereal
- ¼ cup nugget or bud-type cereal
- 3 tablespoons wheat germ
- 1 pancake or waffle, 4 inch diameter
- ½ English muffin, hamburger roll, pita, or bagel (frozen kind; those from bagel shops can be up to 4 servings)
- 1 slice of bread or dinner roll
- 1 tortilla, 6 inch diameter
- ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or barley
- ½ cup quinoa, bulgur, millet, or other whole grain
- ½ cup pretzels
- 3-4 small crackers
At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. The trickiest part about eating whole grains is figuring out which grains truly are whole. To do this, check the ingredient label. The product is a whole grain if the first ingredient is whole wheat or oatmeal. Do not be fooled by brown breads, some are dyed to be that color. Also, a food label that reads "wheat bagel," "stoned wheat," or "seven grain" is not necessarily "whole grain."
The following are whole grains:
- Whole wheat
- Brown rice
Some cold breakfast cereals (eg, Cheerios, Granola or muesli, Grape-Nuts, Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat, Total, Wheat germ, Wheaties)
Some hot breakfast cereals (eg, Oat Bran, oatmeal, Roman Meal, Wheatena)
Some crackers (eg, Triscuits, Ak-Mak)
Dash diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://ebscohost/dynamed. Updated August 26, 2011. Accessed June 2, 2012.
Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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