October 19, 2021 by Peter B. Laird
#BaptistHealthy Easy Eats: Health Benefits of Whole Grains versus Refined Grains
September is National Whole Grains Month and Baptist Health South Florida encourages you to make at least half of your grains whole. Consuming whole grains has many proven health benefits, such as reduced risks of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The consumption of whole grains may also lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and may help to improve digestion.
What is the difference?
All grains start off as whole grains containing the entire seed of a plant. This seed contains all three edible parts – the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Each section contains different health components. The bran is the fiber-rich outer layer supplying B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium and antioxidants. The germ is at the core of the seed; it is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins and antioxidants. The endosperm is the inner layer that contains the carbohydrates, protein and a small amount of B vitamins and minerals.
“Refined grain” refers to grains that are not whole, meaning they are missing one or more of the three key parts of the seed: bran, germ or endosperm. Examples of refined grains are white flour and white rice, where both had their bran and germ removed. Additionally, refining a grain removes a portion of the protein and many nutrients.
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January 2015, recommend that all adults eat at least half their grains as whole grains – which means at least 3 to 5 servings of whole grains per day. Even children need 2 to 3 servings or more.
Here is a reference for appropriate serving sizes of whole grains:
• 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or other cooked grain
• 1/2 cup cooked 100% whole-grain pasta
• 1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, such as oatmeal
• 1 ounce of uncooked whole grain pasta, brown rice or other grain
• 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
• 1 very small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
Easy ways to add whole grains to your family’s diet:
- Swap out half the white flour from recipes and replace it with whole-wheat flour in recipes for cookies, muffins, pancakes, breads.
- Experiment with different grains such as buckwheat, bulgur, millet, quinoa, sorghum, whole rye or barley.
- Add whole grains to homemade soups.
- Stir rolled oats into your yogurt.
- Use whole grains as your primary side dishes.
- Choose whole grains over refined items when
selecting breads, buns, bagels, tortillas, pastas and other grains.
Look for “whole” before the name of the grain when you buy packaged goods. “Multigrain” means the product contains more than one grain and it is possible that not all the grains are whole. Ingredients appear in order of amount, so make sure the whole grains are at the top of the list with minimal ingredients.
If you are unsure if you’ll like whole grains – and think refined grains taste better – it is hard to argue with one’s taste preferences. However, consider that sometimes preferences stem from habit rather than a dislike for whole grains. Learning how to cook whole grains may help (recipes below).
Here are a few recipes to help get you started from The Whole Grains Council.
- Farro is a high-fiber grain, known to be an ancestor of wheat. It is very common in Italian cooking and is becoming more popular in the states. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/farro-pistachios-herbs
- Bulgur is the result when wheat kernels are cleaned, boiled, dried, ground by a mill and then sorted by size. Bulgur has been precooked and dried which makes it an extremely nutritious fast food. Bulgur is great to use as a quick side dish or in a salad. Most commonly used in tabbouleh. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/bulgur-salad-chickpeas-and-herbs
- Barley is quite possibly the oldest grain in the world. One note to make, lightly pearled barley is not a whole grain – however, it is full of ﬁber and considered healthier than a fully-reﬁned grain. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/barley-basil-risotto-fresh-asparagus-corn
About the Author
Amy Kimberlain is a registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and Care Specialist (CDCES) with Community Health at Baptist Health South Florida. Ms. Kimberlain has 20 years of experience in nutrition and dietetics. Active in the community, she has contributed her expertise to various public health initiatives, including childhood obesity, diabetes and family health. Ms. Kimberlain is an academy media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. She earned bachelor’s degrees in nutrition and Spanish from Florida State University. She is also an avid runner and registered yoga teacher.