What Is a "Whole Grain"?

Q: I am confused by the term "whole grain." Are there whole grains in the wheat bread I buy? Why are they healthier than white or other breads?

A: No worries, you'll soon get to be a pro at this when you're grocery shopping — I promise. Basically, you're looking for "whole" to be the first word in the ingredients list of your grain — it's that simple. Select foods labeled "Whole" or "100% Whole Wheat," and stay away from anything labeled "White" or "Enriched." Those are not true whole grains but have been processed in some way.

Whole grains are healthier for you because the grains haven't been processed — they still contain their most essential components. Here's a little lesson on the anatomy of a whole grain:

Bran: The outer shell of a grain. It is essential because it contains fiber, B vitamins, and other trace minerals.

Germ: The inner component of the grain. It provides antioxidants, vitamin E, and B vitamins.

Endosperm: This contains the carbohydrate and protein of a grain.

What's more, whole grains can help improve our hormone levels, and many of them are even better sources of phytochemicals and antioxidants than some vegetables. That makes them powerful allies in the fight against heart disease and more than a dozen types of cancer. Fatty acids from whole grains may also stimulate fat cells in our stomach to release leptin (the satiety hormone), which would tend to fill us up and keep our blood sugar steady. Eating whole grains can even help reverse insulin resistance.

The reason non-whole grains are bad news is that when you alter the cellular structure of a whole grain, its properties and functions change. Many products contain refined grains, which have been so processed that they lack both bran and germ. Because the bran and the germ contain the most essential nutrients, refined grains contain only carbohydrate and a little protein. Refined products include white rice, white flour, white bread, and white pasta. You should stay away from these foods, as they will throw off your blood sugar level.

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