Switch to Whole Grains For Better Health and More Energy

Adding whole grains to your diet can have a big impact on your health and energy levels. But what classifies a grain as a "whole" or "refined grain," and how do you know what you're getting in your pasta and bread.

What are the Health Benefits

The evidence that whole grains are great for your health is overwhelming. They contain antioxidants (vitamin E and selenium), B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium), and phytonutrients.¹ Plus, they're packed with dietary fiber.

Studies show that eating whole, instead of refined grains, can lower your risk of many chronic diseases. And, while benefits are more noticeable for those who consume at least three servings daily, some studies show benefits from as little as one serving per day.

Consume at least half of all grains as whole.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010

These benefits keep showing up in study after study:

  • Stroke risk reduced 30-36 percent

  • Type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30 percent

  • Heart disease risk reduced 25-28 percent

  • Better weight maintenance ²

What are Whole Grain and Whole-Grain Foods?

A whole grain contains the whole seed. It has a bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran is the outer layer of the seed and contains most of the fiber; the endosperm, or kernel, is the largest part, and has some nutrition; the germ has most of the nutrients, and is the part from which new plants sprout.

According to the Whole Grains Council: " If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed."

What are Refined Grains?

When bread, for example, contains refined flour, it means the wheat was put through a milling process that removed the bran and germ. This is done to give the flour a finer texture and longer shelf life. ³

Unfortunately, this process also removes the fiber and most of the nutrients. These nutrients are then added back, and are labeled as "Enriched" grains. The problem is, the amount of nutrition added back is only a fraction of those that were removed.

What to Look For in Bread and Pasta Products

Look for this FDA-approved health claim:

"Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods that are low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers."

If you don't see it, look at the ingredients. Most products use refined grains only, while others use a mix of whole and refined.

Products made with 100 percent whole grains have a different texture and flavor. You might not like it at first if you're used to bread and pasta made with refined grains only.

If so, start with products that are a mix to get accustomed to the difference. It's then easy to switch to grains that are 100% whole. When you do, you'll find the heartier texture and more pronounced flavor is what you prefer.

Stamp Also look for these stamps by the Whole Grain's Council. Products must have at least eight grams per serving to display the stamp.

The American Dietetic Association recommends that vegetarians get 6 servings of grains per day, although studies show that eating less will still give you some health benefits.


1 Kimberly A. Tessmer, Stephanie Green, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mediterranean Diet

2 Whole Grain's Council Website

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DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified health care professional, and is not intended as medical advice.