What is a Whole Grain?
100% whole grains, including wheat, rye, oats and other grains, contain all 3 parts of the kernel:
- Bran – Outer covering that contains vitamins, minerals and fiber. 8,9
- Endosperm – Largest part of kernel, which is ground to make white flour and other refined grains. Contains carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. 8,9,10
- Germ – Tiniest part of kernel, which would grow new wheat if planted. Contains vitamins, protein, minerals and fat. 8,9
Many popular-selling wheat, rye, oat and multi-grain breads contain enriched white flour, bleached white flour, enriched wheat flour or unbleached wheat flour that are NOT whole grains. In addition, words like “multi-grain” or “stone-ground” don’t necessarily mean a product is whole grain.11 Always check the ingredient listing to be sure. If the words “whole grain” don’t appear at the beginning of the ingredient list, but somewhere later in the list, the product is made with some whole grains, but may also contain refined grains.
Whole Grain or Not?
Whole Grain Council Stamp
Another way to identify products containing whole grains is to look for the Whole Grain Stamp to find out the number of grams of whole grain in a serving. There are two types of Whole Grain Stamps found on product packaging:
Basic Whole Grain Stamp
This product contains 8-15 grams of whole grain per serving
100% Whole Grain Stamp
All grains in the product are whole grains and the product has a minimum of 16 grams of whole grain per serving
Whole Grains Give You Phytochemicals & Antioxidants
- Phytochemicals are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and other plants.16 In whole grains, most of the phytochemicals are found in the germ and bran. 8,11
- Although many phytochemicals are available as dietary supplements, research suggests that taking supplements is not as beneficial as eating foods that contain these phytochemicals. 16
- Phytochemicals in whole grains complement those found in fruits and vegetables when eaten together. 8 Another great reason to eat a balanced diet!
- Joe Vinson, Ph.D., found whole grains contain “surprisingly large” amounts of polyphenols, which may be even more important than fiber when it comes to the health benefits that whole grains offer. 20
- Dr. Rui Hai Liu of Cornell University and his colleagues found whole grains contain antioxidants in quantities rivaling or exceeding those in fruits and vegetables (see chart below). In fact, the antioxidant activity in wheat and oats was almost equal to that of broccoli and spinach. 20,21
Antioxidant Chart Source. 17
Did You Know?
Many antioxidants in whole grains are the same or similar to those contained in fruits and vegetables, but many are unique. 17
Whole Grains & Heart Health
All the nutrients in whole grains work together to provide health benefits and may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancers, as discussed below:
Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Not all whole grain products qualify to make this claim. To qualify, a product must contain all 3 portions of the grain kernel, contain at least 51% whole grain by weight per reference amount customarily consumed (50g for bread and buns), and meet specified levels of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, fiber and sodium. 11
Did you know?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. 23
General Heart Health Tips
- Use olive oil instead of vegetable oil, butter or margarine. It could help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and may help raise “good” HDL cholesterol. 13,18,25,44
- Maintain a healthy weight and BMI (body mass index) – Being overweight or obese, especially carrying extra abdominal fat, may raise your risk for heart disease. 39,40
- Exercise moderately (like taking a brisk walk) 30 minutes each day, even if you have to split it up into 2 or 3 10-15 minute segments, to get health benefits. 42
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