You walk into a grocery store and see a whole lot of wholes. Not to be mistaken for deep circular pits of doom that break apart long stretches of highway, 'whole grain' and 'whole wheat' products are food items labelled with numerous health claims and caveats. What should you buy? What are whole grains anyway? Are whole grain products even good for you? Let's take a step back and get a closer look.
Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains
Grains can either be whole or refined. Whole grain food essentially contains the entire seed of certain plants. To be classified as such, whole grain products need to contain all three parts of an individual grain kernel: the bran, endosperm, and the germ. These contain valuable nutrients and they're a major source of insoluble fibre, which can keep you fuller for longer and reduce cravings associated with having high blood sugar (no more midnight snacking)! Refined grains don't have the germ or bran— think white Wonderbread and white sushi rice. This means that refined products lack some of the nutrients that whole grain products have. What's more, refined grains are generally simple carbohydrates: they make your blood sugar go up and down faster than the tide at Huntington Beach. This induces cravings and it can even make you feel sluggish afterwards. Simple carbs are great if you need a quick burst of energy before a race, but they require minimal work for your body to digest.
Whole Grains vs. Everything Else
In some places, the distinction between whole grain and whole wheat becomes a bit tricky. Take Canada, for example. According to the Whole Grains Council, Canadians face a problem resulting from regulatory naming conventions: whole wheat flour can leave out as much as 5% of the original grain seed. What's more, multigrain and organic products might actually contain minimal to zero whole grains. Whole grain products must contain 100% of the original grain seed.
How to make sure you get whole grains
Almost always sold as whole grains: Amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa, millet, sorghum, teff.
What to look out for:
To be extra sure that you're eating whole grains, a general rule of thumb is to check if the word 'whole' prefaces the actual grain (ex: whole barley).
- Barley should be hulled or whole barley, rather than pearl barley
- Corn should not be 'degerminated' if it is to be classified as a whole grain.
- Farro should not be 'pearled'
- Oats should be 'whole oats' or 'old fashioned oats'; instant or quick oats do have the same nutritional value, but they have a slightly higher glycemic load
- Rice is generally considered a whole grain when sold as colored rice, such brown rice, wild rice, and black rice. White rice is a refined grain.
- Rye should be listed as whole rye or rye berries. Rye bread may not necessarily be a whole grain product.
- Spelt can be sold refined, so it make sure it appears on the ingredient list as whole spelt.
- Wheat, when listed by itself, can refer to refined wheat. Look for whole wheat or (if you're in Canada), whole grain whole wheat.
So what are whole grains? We hope this helped clarify a few things! Let us know what your favorite whole grains are in the comments below! What is your favorite way to prepare whole grains? Cover image via PumpUp member vegan_federica. Quinoa photo via Flickr.