Learning to Love Whole Grains

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Ever since we switched off of a low-carb diet, I wanted to educate myself on the differences between whole grains and refined grains. I wondered whether whole grains were actually more nutritious and if so, why? I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you have asked the same questions. Luckily for us, the answer is simple and I’m happy to share it with you!

To start, all grains begin as whole grains. Grains growing in a field have seeds, called kernels. Each kernel is made up of three edible parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The entire grain is enclosed in an inedible husk that protects the kernel from sunlight, pests, water, and diseases.

Whole grains contain all of the original parts of a grain, except for the outside husk. Each part of the grain contains unique nutritional benefits:

  1. Bran: a multilayered outer skin that contains important antioxidants, B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
  2. Germ: the seed that can be used to grow a new grain plant contains B vitamins, protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
  3. Endosperm: the food supply for the germ, which contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

Refined grains are missing one or more parts of a whole grain kernel. White flour and white rice are refined grains because they both have had their bran and germ removed, leaving the starchy endosperm. Refining a grain removes some (or most) of the protein and nutrients, which is why many nutritionists and doctors recommend that people eat whole grains over refined ones. [1]

Since refined grains have gotten a bad-rap, many refined grains now claim to be “enriched” with nutrients. Not surprisingly, enrichment adds back fewer nutrients than were removed from the original grain and in different proportions. Although enriched grains may be more healthy than their un-enriched counterparts, they are still a far cry from the nutritional benefits provided by whole grains, such as dietary fiber (which cannot be added to refined grains). [2]

That all seems simple enough, but when I sent my husband to the grocery store to pick up some whole grain bread, he came back with whole wheat. He asked, “what’s the difference?” and to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure. I did some research and the short answer is that whole wheat is a kind of whole grain (like apples are a kind of fruit). However, there are other kinds of whole grains (and other kinds of fruit) including, but definitely not limited to: millet, wild rice, rye, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, brown rice, barley, freekeh, bulgur, couscous, corn, and einkorn.

When you are buying a grain product, make sure you look at the first ingredient for that product. If it isn’t “whole ___ flour” it probably isn’t a whole grain product. Also, don’t be fooled by misleading terms such as “wheat flour,” “unbleached wheat flour,” “multigrain,” “enriched,” or “stone-ground.” These are just different ways of telling you that the product is made from refined white flour. Whole grain breads typically have 100 or fewer calories, 2 grams or more of fiber, and 225 mg or less of sodium per slice. [3] As for our household, we buy Oroweat Whole Grains 100% Whole Wheat bread and Barilla Whole Grain Spaghetti (when we don’t have edamame, lentil, or brown rice pasta on hand).

I hope that this post leaves you a little more confident when you are faced with the bread aisle! I’m still learning, but now that I am more knowledgeable about grains, I have really enjoyed welcoming them back into our daily diet. As always, thank you for following along on my Sweet Pea Living journey!


“Whole Grains 101 | The Whole Grains Council.” https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101. Accessed 9 Oct. 2017.

“What Is the Difference Between Whole Grain & Enriched Flour ….” 3 Oct. 2017, http://www.livestrong.com/article/549358-what-is-the-difference-between-whole-grain-enriched-flour/. Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.

“Whole Grain Bread – Healthy Eating Tips at WomansDay.com.” 22 Feb. 2011, http://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/nutrition/tips/a5521/what-to-look-for-when-buying-bread-116101/. Accessed 9 Oct. 2017.

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