What IS a Whole Grain?

The word “whole grain” and “whole wheat” get thrown around a lot and we all know they are healthier for us than products made with white flour, but did you ever stop to think what exactly is a whole grain? I tend to take this knowledge for granted but was reminded recently that there are many who may eat whole grains but aren’t sure why. So I figured, why not do a quick review of our friend the whole grain and remind you why these little guys are good for your health.

Here is a whole grain. Essentially a whole grain consists of the entire seed of the plant from which is originated. It contains the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran is the outer layer of the seed and protects it from the elements. It has beneficial antioxidants, fiber and B vitamins. The germ is the reproductive part of the seed that will sprout if fertilized by pollen. It provides more B vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and a little protein. The endosperm is the energy production center of the seed, providing the necessary nutrients for the young seedling to sprout and take root. It is the largest part of the seed and contains carbohydrates, protein, and a few vitamins and minerals. When a grain is refined, such as in white flour, the bran and the germ are removed, resulting in a great loss of nutrients and fiber. This is why whole grains are more beneficial than refined products. 

What many people often forget is the “whole grains” are not just wheat based foods. There are many other whole grains out there that are chocked full of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. Some of my favorites include barley, wild rice, millet and amaranth, just to name a few. A few quick clicks around the internet will turn up some great recipes for these “other” whole grains, or you can go out and find one of my favorite cookbooks, “The Splendid Grain” by Rebecca Wood. She’ll have you cooking a variety of grains in ways you never would have thought of. I should get royalties or something for how much I promote this book, but I love it. I would love to know if any of you have any great whole grain cookbooks. I’m always looking for new ideas.

Another easy way to get more whole grains in your diet is to choose whole grain products over the traditional refined ones that you buy at the store. Examples include 100% whole wheat breads, whole grain pastas (made from whole wheat, quinoa, brown rice or other grains), whole grain crackers, whole wheat or corn tortillas, whole grain cereals, etc. 

So what, if any, changes do you plan to make to get more whole grain goodness in your diet? For me, my goal is to make homemade whole grain crackers for my little boy. The successful recipe will be posted soon. =)

Danielle VenHuizen, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian, Certified LEAP Therapist