Nutritional guidelines say to choose whole grains rather than refined grains, but what is the difference between the two? As you might suspect, whole grains contain the original grain parts as grown by the grain plant. Refined grains are processed, or refined, to remove some of those parts. Those original grain parts contain fiber plus other nutrients, and they’re good for you, which is why health experts urge people to include whole grains in their diets. Whole grains and the flour produced from them don’t make light fluffy baked goods, which is why food production manufacturers might tend to avoid them for some products.
Grains include wheat, corn, rice, sorghum, barley, millet, rye, and oats. The seed of the grain plant, also called the kernel, is what is harvested. It contains three parts.
Bran: The fibrous shell covering the entire kernel
Endosperm: The starchy part of the grain directly below the bran
Germ: The part of the seed that can grow into another grain plant
Whole vs. Refined Grain
Whole grain flour, from any type of grain, gluten-free or not, contains all three parts of the grain kernel, only it’s ground together. Refined grain flour contains only the endosperm. The process of refining flour removes the germ and the bran. Refining grain flour provides for a longer shelf life and a finer texture. The process of refining flour removes the germ and the bran.
Whole grain flour has some real health advantages. It includes the fibrous bran and the nutrient-filled germ of the kernel. It also includes significantly more B vitamins, minerals, and fiber than does refined flour. In fact, manufacturers add vitamins and minerals (specifically, folic acid and iron) back into refined wheat flour to make it a healthier food. However, there’s no way to add fiber to refined flour without destroying its fine texture and potentially reducing its shelf life.
How much grain should you eat?
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for American, a 35-year old woman is recommended to eat six ounce-equivalents of grains per day, at least three of which should be whole grains. How much is an ounce equivalent of a grain-based food? Here are some examples:
1 regular-sized piece of bread (now sometimes labeled small)
½ cup rice or pasta (get out a measuring cup and look at how much this really is)
½ cup cooked oatmeal
½ of a biscuit
¼ of a large bagel
⅓ of a large muffin
As much as possible, eat your grains whole. In this case, I mean grains that are truly whole, that is not ground up into flour or processed into flakes. The more ground up and/or processed the grain, the more it acts like a refined-grain or just plain sugar in the body. We should choose whole grains rather than refined grains to have a healthier body.
For more information on Whole Vs. Refined Grains contact Lethia Lee at Sampson County Cooperative Extension Office. 910-592-7161 or [email protected]
Lethia Lee is the EFNEP program assistant for the Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program with the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Center.