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The Whole Truth About Whole Grains

The Whole Truth About Whole Grains

We hear a lot about the health benefits of whole grains these days.  And food manufacturers know we’re listening.  Unfortunately, some manufacturers are using this trend to their advantage by liberally and questionably using the term “whole grain” to describe their products.  Make sure you’re armed with the whole truth about whole grains before your next trip to the grocery store.

Whole grains contain the whole kernel.  When grains are refined or processed, two essential kernel components — the bran (the outer shell of the kernel) and the germ (seed) — are removed.  The bran and the germ supply most of the grain’s health-boosting nutrients, such as niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc.  They’re also outstanding sources of fiber.

According to new research, whole grains play a key role in preventing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer.  Unfortunately, differentiating between whole-grain products and less-healthful options can require some minor detective work.

First examine the front of the package.  If just the phrases “wheat,” “whole grain” or “contains whole grains” appear, most likely only a fraction of the product consists of whole grains.  Instead, look for claims like “100% whole grain” or “complete whole wheat.”  Also, don’t be fooled by “multi-grain” options which often contain mostly refined grains.

After inspecting the front of the package, next check out the ingredient list.  The first ingredient and only flour listed should contain the word “whole,” such as “whole wheat,” “whole rye” or “whole oats.”

Next, consider the second ingredient.  Even if the primary ingredient is a whole grain, if the second is a form of refined grain, such as “wheat flour” or “enriched flour,” then the product may still contain a large mix of refined flour.  Whole grain should be the first ingredient and only flour listed.

At first, whole-grain items may take some getting used to, but stick to it.  Once you become accustomed to whole-grain products, you’ll find that you prefer them to refined-grain options.

Dr. Barbara Smith

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