What are whole grains and why do we need them?
A grain is considered to be “whole” when it contains all three parts of the original kernel: bran, endosperm and germ.
Bran is the fiber-filled outer layer of a grain kernel that is full of B vitamins and minerals. The endosperm is a starchy carbohydrate middle layer with some proteins and vitamins. And the germ is a nutrient-packed core with vitamins, healthy fats and other beneficial compounds.
Barley, brown rice, millet, oatmeal, wheat, rye, corn and spelt are all common whole grains. (Quinoa and buckwheat are technically seeds but are often classified as whole grains in diets.)
Whole wheat — including whole wheat flour — counts as a whole grain because it contains the three components, said Joanne Slavin, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota. White flour doesn’t count, she said, because it is milled in a way that removes the wheat bran and germ.
Whatever the source, whole grains are important to include in your diet because “they tend to be really nutrient- and fiber-rich,” said Maya Feller, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Brooklyn.
High-fiber diets have been associated with a range of health benefits, including regulated cholesterol and blood sugar levels and improved digestion, she said. “Depending on the type of grain that you’re consuming, they can be a fantastic source of B vitamins,” she added, as well as essential amino acids like methionine and phenylalanine.
How much whole grain food do you need?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, at least half of the total grains you consume each day — which comes out to at least three servings, experts say — should be 100 percent whole grains. A slice of whole wheat bread, a half cup of cooked oatmeal and three cups of popped popcorn, in combination, would satisfy the daily requirement.
Tracking your consumption of whole grains can be confusing, experts say, because foods labeled “whole grain” or “whole wheat” are not required to be 100 percent whole grain. They also don’t have to disclose how many whole grains they provide per serving.
Even if you’re well-educated on the subject, it’s challenging to know if you’re meeting daily requirements because there are no strict regulations for how these foods are labeled.
When in doubt, go for the pure grain. The easiest way to be 100 percent sure that what you’re eating is whole grain is to purchase something that contains a whole grain as the only ingredient, like a bag of oats or brown rice.
The New York Times