What are Whole Grains?

You may be seeing the term “whole grain” all over your favorite foods. From breakfast cereals to bread, this label is everywhere. And for good reason! Diets rich in whole grains may decrease the risk of heart disease, as well as help with weight management and constipation.1 Some may wonder what all the fuss is about- isn’t all bread made of grains?

Whole grain is a term used to show that every part of the grain was used in the making of that product. A grain is made up of three different parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Each contains its own nutrients and has its own function. The bran is the outside of the grain and contains fiber, antioxidants and B vitamins. The endosperm contains carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and proteins. Lastly, the germ has some B vitamins, healthy fats, protein and minerals and is able to sprout a new plant. When all three parts of the grain are used, it is called a whole grain.2

A refined grain is the term we use when the grain has been stripped of one of these three components. If part of it is stripped away, so are the nutrients it contains, leaving you with less fiber, vitamins and/or proteins. The term whole wheat is also not the same as whole grain. It may still be missing some of the vital nutrients that made it a whole grain.

How do I choose more whole grains?

When shopping in the grocery store, look at the ingredients list. Ideally the first ingredient of your bread, cereal or even crackers would be “Whole Grain Wheat Flour.” Another way to check for whole grains is to look at the breads and see if there are visible seeds. Most likely these seeds have been unaltered and will even add a nice, nutty flavor to your bread. Choosing whole grains when you have diabetes is especially beneficial because this higher fiber option will take longer to break down, therefore slowing the entrance of sugar into the bloodstream and leading to a slower rise in blood sugar. Fiber also comes with the benefit of making you feel fuller longer, which means less need for in-between meal snacking. Be sure you are checking portion sizes and taking them into account when calculating carbohydrate intake for insulin or medication dosage. Speak with your physician if you have specific diet questions or concerns.

What is a serving?

Here are some portion sizes to give you a better idea of a serving of whole grains:

  • A serving is equal to 16 grams of whole grains
  • 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
  • ½ cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain breakfast cereal 3

Tips to remember:

  • Make at least half of your grain servings whole
  • Whole grains contain more fiber, protein and vitamins and minerals than refined grains
  • Follow portion sizes above for guidance

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