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 be a pro at this when you're grocery shopping. The first word in the ingredients list of your grain should be "whole." Select foods labeled "Whole" or "100% Whole Wheat" on the front of the package, and stay away from anything labeled "White" or "Enriched." Those are not true whole grains and have been processed in some way.

Whole grains are healthier because they are less processed and contain more nutrients. Here's the breakdown of 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 homone 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 the stomach to release leptin (the satiety hormone), which keeps you full and maintains steady blood sugar levels.

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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