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What are Whole Grains?

Updated on June 26, 2015

You've probably seen the word "whole grain" on a cereal box or you've heard the doctor mention it before. But have you every wondered what does "whole grain" actually mean? This article will go through what you always wanted to know about whole grains!

This diagram clearly shows the three naturally-occuring parts: bran, endosperm and germ.
This diagram clearly shows the three naturally-occuring parts: bran, endosperm and germ. | Source

What exactly are whole grains?

Whole grains are grains that contain all of the naturally-occuring parts and essential nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions. To be qualified as a whole grain, it must have 100% of the original kernel.

Refer to the picture of the grain anatomy.

As you can see, there are three components that are present in all grains: bran, endosperm and germ. Whole grains contain all of the bran, endosperm and germ. Refined grains, on the other hand, do not contain 100% of the original grain and therefore do not contain as many nutrients and health benefits.

This picture shows the different types of whole grains. There are a variety whole grains with different nutrition profile, price, taste, etc.
This picture shows the different types of whole grains. There are a variety whole grains with different nutrition profile, price, taste, etc. | Source

The Types of Whole Grains

Whole grains come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Just like how there are many types of vegetables (carrots, brocolli, cucumber, etc), there are many types of whole grains such as (but not limited to): Oats, Barley, Corn, Millet, Amaranth, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Teff, Kamut, Job's Tears, Rice, Rye, Triticale, etc. All of these are only whole grains if they are consumed with all of the nutrient-packed parts - bran, endosperm and germ.

Legumes (kidney beans, mung beans, soy, lentils, etc) and Oilseeds are not accepted as whole grains by the WGC, the AACC International, or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but are still healthy choices.

What is your favorite type of whole grain?

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Average whole grain cereal

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 3/4 cup
Calories 100
Calories from Fat0
% Daily Value *
Fat 0 g
Saturated fat 0 g
Unsaturated fat 0 g
Carbohydrates 30 g10%
Sugar 3 g
Fiber 6 g24%
Protein 6 g12%
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 140 mg6%
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

Why eat whole grains?

Why exactly might you want to eat whole grain cereal instead of the normal types? Why should you use whole flour in your favorite recipes instead of refined flour?

Many repeated studies have revealed the following:

  • risk of stroke reduced by 30-36%
  • risk of type 2 diabetes reduced by 21-30%
  • risk of heart disease reduced by 25-28%
  • better weight maintenance

Other benefits indicated by recent studies include:

  • reduced risk of asthma
  • healthier carotid arteries
  • risk of inflammatory disease reduced
  • lower risk of colorectal cancer
  • healthier blood pressure levels
  • less gum disease and tooth loss

The nutrition fact shows the nutrition of the average whole grain cereal. Refined grain cereals often have less dietary fibre and protein and more added sugar, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

This table shows the amount of nutrients per one cup of cooked grains. No grain is the "healthiest". All grains provides different nutrients so enjoying a variety is best.
This table shows the amount of nutrients per one cup of cooked grains. No grain is the "healthiest". All grains provides different nutrients so enjoying a variety is best. | Source
If you see these stamps on a product, the product is whole grain.
If you see these stamps on a product, the product is whole grain. | Source

Indentifying Whole Grain Products

Whole grains are healthy foods to include in your meal but how exactly can you tell what is refined grain and what is whole grain?

Thankfully, the Whole Grains Council have created a special "whole grain stamp" to help buyers identify which products are whole grains.

If you see a stamp that looks like the ones in the picture, it is definitely whole grain. There are two types of stamp: the basic stamp and the 100% stamp. The 100% stamp indicates that all of the product's grain ingredients are whole grains. The basic stamp shows that the product uses a mixture of refined grains and whole grains. The proportion varies amongst products.

If the product doesn't have the stamp, the product is either the following:

  • It is made from refined grains.
  • It is made from whole grains but the Whole Grains Council have yet to professionally evaulate the product and put a stamp on it.

In the second scenario, you can determine whether it is whole grain or not by finding clues on the packaging. The table below shows words that can give helpful clues.

Is this product whole grain?

Yes - these are whole grains
Not sure - these could be whole or refined
No - these are refined grains
whole grain [name of grain]
organic flour
wheat germ
whole [name of grain]
durum wheat
brown rice
enriched flour
degerminated (in cornmeal)
wheat/wheat flour

Shopping tips!

How much is recommended?

The most recent Dietry Guidlines for Americans recommend that half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. For adults, that is 3-5 servings. For children, that is 2-3 servings, possibly more! It is advised that you eat 3 ounces/85 grams worth of whole grain foods such as muffins, pastas, breads, cereal, etc. Shockingly, more than 40% of Americans never eat whole grains at all and most Americans eat less than one serving in spite of all the wonderful nutrients found in whole grains!

Do you have a favorite? Vote!

What is your favorite whole grain food?

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What do you do now? Of course, you eat! To get you started, here are a few ways you can start getting the nutrients by including whole grains in your diet:

  • Eat brown or colored rice instead of the white varieties.
  • Include some whole flour in your favorite recipes.
  • Try whole grain cereal instead of refined grain cereal (Cheerios, Kashi and Shredded wheats are great cereals to try!)
  • Enjoy whole grain bread as a healthy alternative to white bread.
  • Buy pancake or muffin mixes for a yummy treat!
  • Getting bored of rice? Try quinoa, barley or other whole grains instead!
  • Include some cooked grains such as wild rice, rye berries, etc into your soup for extra healthy nutrients!
  • Make your own whole grain pilaf or risotto from recipes on the Internet.
  • Grab some whole-wheat tortillas or taco shells from the supermarket.
  • Barley and Job's tears are perfect in soy milk!
  • Serve some cooked quinoa as a tasty side dish!
  • Have some whole grain pop corn when watching movies!

Note: Some of the foods listed above can come in different forms: whole grains and refined grains. Please make sure that it is whole grain before purchasing to ensure that you are receiving all the nutrients!

These are just a few ways to include whole grains in your diet. Be creative; the list of ways you can eat whole grains is endless! Bon Appétit!


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    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 

      3 years ago from Jamaica

      good stuff

    • Frederick Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Palis Pisuttisarun 

      4 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Glad you found my article interesting! I am happy you will try to purchase whole grains because they are delicious foods with lots of health benefits. Thank you for your supportive comment; I appreciate it!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I find your article very interesting! I learned a lot and I like your variety of media like videos, tables, diagrams, etc. I never knew that whole grains were so healthy. I'll include it in my next grocery list! Keep up the good job!


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