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Guide to Whole Grains

These days, it seems that every product we see boasts that it contains “whole grains”. So, why do these companies find it so important to inform us about the grains in their food products?

It’s simple, say nutrition experts. Whole grains are good for you! And with a continually growing interest in eating properly, Americans and others around the world are constantly in search of the healthiest foods they can find.

Doctors and other experts note that the consumption of whole grains can reduce an individual’s risk of developing several diseases, including heart disease, some types of cancer, and Type-2 diabetes. Grains are also a very rich source of protein. In many countries around the word, grains are the MAJOR source of protein in that culture’s diet. (That’s not the case in most Western countries, where meat is the prime source of protein.)

Whole grains also contain about 80 percent complex carbohydrates, which are the good kind that provide you with extra energy. They are also a major source of several other vitamins and minerals including B-vitamins, iron, zinc, folic acid, and – of course – fiber.

Those who are limiting their calorie intake also recognize that whole grains are quite low in fat. Furthermore, the USDA food pyramid suggests that you include a sizeable amount of grains in your diet and that at least half of those grains are whole grains and not the refined type, like white bread or white rice. They advise the average person should consume 3 ounces of whole grain bread, cereal, crackers, rice, or pasta every day.


The whole grain most readily consumed by Americans is wheat, generally because it is the U.S.’s most plentiful grain, grown in the “wheat belt” that stretches across the middle of the country. Many, many foods contain wheat, not just the most obvious – like bread and pasta.

Wheat is generally characterized by its hardness. The hardest wheat contains a lot of gluten and is found in foods that have a firm texture, namely bread. Soft wheat can be found in things like pastry flour, which is used for cakes, pie crusts, pastries, and other similar items.

If you’re searching for a healthy whole wheat bread, a good way to find one is to read the labels. Look for the ones that say “100% Whole Wheat”. That means there is no enriched, white flour in this bread. If the ingredients list “wheat flour”, then it is not whole wheat.

While 100% whole wheat breads are the best, a whole wheat bread that lists wheat flour as the main ingredient is good as well, just not as good as the 100% kind. Most breads that list wheat flour as the first ingredient contain about 75% whole wheat but will most likely include white flour as well.


Oats are probably the second-most popular grain eaten in the U.S. Oats can be found in bread as well as in a large number of cereals. The kind of oats you’ll find most often are rolled oats, which are often an ingredient in bread, oatmeal, granola, and muesli.
Like wheat, oats are low in calories and high in protein and fiber. They also provide sizeable amounts of iron, vitamin E, a variety of B vitamins, and zinc.


Barley can be found in baby cereals, mainly because it is easier to digest than other grains like rice. You’ll also find it in soup, often replacing rice there as well. It can be used this way in main dishes, too. However, most Americans get their share of barley from drinking beer.


A gluten-free grain used in Middle Eastern and Asian flatbreads, millet is quite popular with those striving for a diet devoid of gluten products. It is a very good source of B vitamins as well. It is lower in fiber than some other grains, like wheat, but still a good addition to any diet.


Most rye breads contain pretty much the same nutrients as whole wheat bread. Technically, however, rye is much more nutritious, offering an abundance of fiber, calcium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B and E. However, bread is rarely made in rye’s original dark form; but rather, it is “lightened” and mixed with refined wheat flour. The lightening severely impacts the nutritional value of the rye.