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Whole vs. Refined: Knowing Your Grain Products is Important for Your Health

You’ve probably heard this as part of low-carbohydrate diets to lose weight quickly. Stay away from grain products, such as bread, pasta and rice, because they’re fattening.

Actually, this is mostly fiction. Grains themselves are not fattening, confirms Lucette Talamas, a registered dietitian with Community Heath at Baptist Health South Florida. Just make sure you eat the healthier grain products and don’t overeat.

This my sound overly logical and simple, but most Americans don’t consume enough whole grains. At least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains, according to the U.S. ChooseMyPlate.gov guidelines [1].

“Grains themselves are not fattening,” explains Ms. Talamas. “But there are a healthier form of grains and that’s your whole grains. And if it’s not whole grains, it’s refined grains. But all grains are not necessarily fattening. What’s fattening is the over-consumption of your grains. Any grain in excess, as well as any nutrient, in excess — whether it’s fat, protein or grains and carbs — will be stored in your body as fats.”

Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.

Whole grains are healthier than refined grains. A whole grain is a grain in its original state – the whole seed, or kernel, of the grain. Whole grains have more nutrients than refined grains, which consist of a seed stripped of one or more its layers. Some examples are whole grains are whole wheat, corn, brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and rye.

Here’s one good example of whole vs. refined grains. Brown rice, derived from whole grains, takes a bit longer to turn into sugar because of the fiber, which is the gatekeeper that controls the body’s blood sugar from rising too much or too fast. In contrast, white rice can have the same amount of carbohydrates but it’s going to spike blood sugar much faster because it lacks the fiber.

The amount of grains you need to eat depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity, according to U.S. nutritional guidelines found at ChooseMyPlate.gov [1].

Despite the well-meaning guidelines, many people find it difficult to stay within reasonable portion sizes, Ms. Talamas says. “It is difficult to stay within recommended portion sizes of your grains, whether it’s whole or refined grains, because they are so many grains that we like that are out there,” she says.

Yet, cutting too many carbs in a short period of time is not a healthy option either, she adds. That’s the selling point of many quick-loss diets.

“When you cut grains, or carbs, you’re making a choice of not learning how to have the right amount,” she explains. “You’re just choosing to cut them all of a sudden. But you’re cutting a very large source of calories and energy in your body, so you’ll see that short-term weight loss. But we know that in the long-term, the weight will end up coming back.”