The Whole Truth about Whole Grains

By: Jennifer Seleem, MS, RDNJennifer Seleem use

September is whole grains month! A great time to promote the importance of whole grains in the diet. A whole grain food means you are consuming the whole grain as it was retrieved from the farm. Whole grains include their three original parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

  • Bran: contains antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber
  • Germ: has potential to sprout into a new plant. Contains B vitamins, protein, minerals and healthy fats
  • Endosperm: germs food supply; provides essential energy to the plant. Contains carbohydrates, proteins and some vitamins and minerals.

Some examples of whole grains include amaranth, barely, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, sorghum, teff, triticale, wheat and wild rice. Alternatively, there are also refined grains and enriched grains. Refined grains are not whole because food manufacturers remove one or more of the three important components. The removal of these components is done to add shelf life to the product. Unfortunately, the removal of some parts of the grain means there is removal of essential nutrients.

Some examples of refined grains are white flour and white rice. They are refined grains because the bran and germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm. The refining process removes protein and essential vitamins and minerals from the grain. In the past, this led to nutrient deficiencies causing diseases like pellagra and beri-beri due to the removal of essential (B vitamins) from the grain. As a result, enriched grains were created. Enriched grains have been refined, with some of the nutrients added back. And still, the enriched grain does not have as much vitamins, minerals or protein as a whole grain.  

Whole grains are jam packed with vitamins and minerals, but what good does it provide the body?

  • Fiber: Whole grains have fiber which has many beneficial functions. First, dietary fiber can help improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Second, fiber from whole grains may help you feel fuller for longer. This may reduce total caloric intake for the day, leading to weight loss. Lastly, fiber helps maintain healthy bowel movements when consumed with adequate fluids.
  • B Vitamins: Whole grains contain B vitamins which help release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates. B vitamins are also essential for a healthy nervous system.
  • Iron: Iron from whole grains is used to carry oxygen in the blood.
  • Magnesium & Selenium: Magnesium and selenium found in whole grains are used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles. Selenium is important for a healthy immune system.

Now that the whole truth is revealed about whole grains, isn’t it hard to stay away? The USDA recommends at least half of all the grains consumed should be whole grains. This can be easily done by replacing things like bread, rice, pasta with the whole grain alternative. Make sure the product is whole grain by looking at the ingredients and ensure ‘whole grain’ is the first ingredient. Celebrate whole grains month by choosing your favorite whole grain products. Let this be the beginning of making the switch permanent!

Jennifer Seleem is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with the Institute for Weight Loss at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center-Old Bridge. The Institute provides weight loss surgery and support for individuals seeking weight loss and have been unable to lose weight through conventional dieting, exercise or weight loss medication. To attend a free seminar, which occurs twice monthly, or to make an appointment with Jennifer for nutrition counseling, call 855-TIME-4-ME.


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