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How Can You Tell if Something is Whole Grain? And What’s the Big Deal if it’s Not?

What exactly is a whole grain and why are you always hearing so much about them?

Whole grains include the entire grain seed which consists of three parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ.

Graph compliments of precisionnutrition.com

Graph compliments of precisionnutrition.com

On the other hand, when grains are milled, refined or enriched (like in white bread or pasta), the bran and germ portions are removed, leaving only the endosperm. When you buy white breads, white rice, and white pasta, those important parts of the grain have been taken away to create a finer, lighter texture but in turn you lose all of the fiber and nutrients.

Why should you care? Not only do whole grains provide essential vitamins and minerals, they also have tons of fiber, which helps to regulate digestive system and to keep you fuller and more satisfied. White pastas or rice or breads really only provide us with quick-digesting carbohydrate and little else.

Consuming 2-3 servings of whole grain foods per day can reduce the risk of:

1. Cardiovascular disease: effects 1 in 3 American adults
2. Type 2 Diabetes: 25.8 million Americans have it, 79 million have pre-diabetes
3. Hypertension
4. Colon cancer: 3rd most common cancer in the US in men and women
5. Obesity
As whole grain intake goes up, the risk for all five of these conditions goes down. That’s a pretty big deal.

Beware of grain foods labeled:
• Multigrain
• Wheat bread
• Organic flour
• Bran
• Wheat germ
• Unbleached wheat flour
• 100% wheat

None of these terms guarantee a whole grain product. As with a lot of packaged products, just because something looks or sounds healthy doesn’t mean it is. The easiest way to ensure you’re getting a whole grain is to look for the word WHOLE as the first word of the ingredient list.

We should all be aiming to consume 48 grams of whole grains per day (equivalent to 3 servings of 16 g of whole grains).

Despite all the great things whole grains can do for our bodies, Americans consume on average less than 1 serving of whole grains per day. Fewer than 5% of us get the recommended 48g per day.

Here are a few simple ways to start incorporating more WGs into your diet:

  • Start having old-fashioned oats for breakfast. Add fresh fruit and natural sweeteners to jazz it up. Steer clear of the packaged oatmeals which are highly processed and have loads of added sugars.
  • Popcorn! (Seriously– but without all the salt and butter). Make a popcorn trail mix with almonds and dried cranberries.
  • If you don’t like the texture of whole grain pastas or brown rice, try mixing half whole grain and half white until you get used to the taste and texture. This works well with kids.
  • Use whole grain buns, rolls, pitas, wraps and tortillas– for any type of carbohydrate there is usually a whole grain version available.
  • Substitute ½ whole wheat flour for white flour while baking breads, muffins, or cookies.
  • Experiment with new grains like quinoa, millet, buckwheat, wheat berries and whole grain couscous. Try my easy recipes for Protein Packed Pizza Bites, Skinny Burgers, or Savory Stuffed Peppers.

Have you tried any new grains lately? Or maybe just “healthified” old recipes substituting whole grain ingredients instead of refined?

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