A whole grain still has all three of its original elements: the outer shell called the "bran" which contains fiber and vitamins, the "germ" which contains disease-preventing compounds called phytochemicals, and the "endosperm" which contains carbohydrates and protein.
Processed or refined grains means that the bran and germ have been removed, leaving only the endosperm and very little fiber or micronutrients. This is commonly called "enriched wheat flour".
Learn more about the definition of whole grains.
Whole grains take longer to digest and are released into the bloodstream slowly which results in more stable blood glucose levels. No more "sugar highs" or that after-meal decrease in energy after your body's insulin kicks in. Whole grains also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, help you avoid high blood pressure, and reduce certain types of cancers. According to the Whole Grains Council, in one recent study, whole grains were even found to dramatically decrease acne by 50% in the study participants.
Whole wheat, millet, and bulgur wheat contain the most whole grains. Soba noodles (made from buckwheat), barley, quinoa, brown rice, and wild rice can also be good choices. Learn more with this list of whole grains.
The two key labels are "100%" and "whole". Look for 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat on the nutrition label. Examples include:
Remember, don't be fooled by the labels. "Stoneground, multi-grain, Italian bread, French bread, and 100% wheat" are not alternate labels for whole grain. In addition, if you see the words “enriched, bleached, unbleached, semolina, durum, or rice” associated with flour as the first ingredient, these are generally not whole grain either. Instead, look for whole grain as the first ingredient in the ingredient list or check the label for 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain. (By the way, oatmeal is always whole grain.)
There are very few whole grain choices in chain restaurants, but always ask to find out if your favorite restaurant has them. If there is not a choice that clearly says the item is 100% whole grain, the restaurant may not have one. The more customers that ask for 100% whole grain choices, the more likely the restaurant will be to start offering them!
Visit the Whole Grains Council for some great recipes, or check out a few of these cooking videos from Student Health 101: