Grains: Whole vs. Refined; What’s the Difference?
Updated: Mar 2
By: Silvia DiPaola, Contributing Writer
When you go to the store, you often see whole, enriched, and refined grains on the shelves with the sliced bread, but what do these terms mean?
A whole grain contains all of the same parts the grain had when it was growing. This includes the endosperm, the germ, and bran. Some examples include brown rice and whole-wheat bread. These are the best choices of grains because they have the most nutritional value! According to MayoClinic, whole grains are healthier than other types of grains because they contain the whole sum of nutrients and proteins available naturally, while refined grains do not. The former have healthy fats, starchy carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Some types of whole-grain foods that are healthy for consumption include barley, rye, quinoa, whole wheat bread, sorghum, and buckwheat. These are all starches and excellent food choices. They take longer for the body to digest, allowing you to feel full and satiated for more extended periods than the other types of grains.
According to the Healthy Grains Institute, 100% whole wheat products are ideal as they signify that not a single part of the grain was removed in the process. Multigrain products are not necessarily better as sometimes not all the grains present have the endosperm, germ, and bran.
A refined grain, however, has had at least one of these three parts of the grain removed, which strips the grain of many essential nutrients, minerals, and proteins. These types of grains include white bread and white rice. These are not the best choice to eat because of the limited amounts of nutrients present in them. The reason is that whole grains tend to spoil faster in their natural state, so refining them helps prolong their shelf life. Your body can digest these kinds of grains quickly, which causes blood sugar to dip. Rapid drops in glucose levels could cause you to binge on unhealthy foods to get it back to a normal level. 100% whole wheat products keep your sugar levels more steady than the others, making them a better option.
An enriched product is technically a refined product with some of the nutrients restored to their original numbers after they have been stripped in the refining process. This is similar to a fortified product, which contains added nutrients that were never present even before the refining processes. An example would be adding calcium to orange juice, although this beverage’s natural state lacks it. Thiamin, Niacin, Riboflavin, and Folate are vitamins added back to refined grains. Iron is the mineral that is added. Fiber is not added, however, so you are losing out on a key nutrient when consuming enriched food products. Thus, they are not a good choice, nutritionally, either.
You should be consuming around 3-8 ounces of grain per day to satisfy your daily requirement for it. 1 ounce may be one slice of bread, ½ cup of pasta, or half an English muffin. To ensure the product you purchased is authentic whole wheat, check the ingredients list and check to see if whole wheat grain or flour is the first on it. If not, you should look for other products that do.
It is easy to make the swap from unhealthy refined grains to whole ones in your diet. Try to buy whole wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white, whole-grain bagels, and whole-grain cereals!
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