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Whole Grain Goodness


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Whole Grain Goodness

Clinical Dietitian Nancy Baker discusses the parts of a grain kernel with Air Force Veteran Kevin Benard. If you are interested in a healthier diet, call 713-791-1414, ext. 4295.

By Amanda Knudson, MEDVAMC Dietetic Intern
Monday, May 9, 2011

You may have heard about the publicity concerning whole grain and the health benefits it provides.  What are those benefits? How do you know if something is whole grain or not? How much whole grain should you consume every day? 

Keep reading for the answers to these important questions as well as tips for adding whole grains into your diet.

First, we will start with the basics. 

What is a whole grain? There are three main parts to a grain kernel: the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran is the outer shell, the germ is the seed, and the endosperm is the inside.  

An easy tip is that whole grains contain the “whole” kernel.  These grains are the “wheat” or “brown” products; for example, whole wheat bread and brown rice. If you want to know if a product is whole grain, check the label.

In addition, milling is a process in which grains are refined.  In the milling process, the bran and the germ are removed. These refined grains contain only the endosperm, or inside of the grain. These products are the “white” grain products; for example, white bread, white rice, and white flour. The bran and the germ are removed in milling to help lengthen the shelf life of the product; however, removing these two parts results in the loss of nutrients.   Although enriched flours have some nutrients added back, the others are lost. 

While it is helpful that some lost nutrients are added back, whole grain products are more beneficial than refined products. Whole grains contain 17 key nutrients which build a healthy and balanced diet. Whole grain products are also a good source of protein. In fact, they contain 25 percent more protein than white bread.

Besides, you may have heard that whole grains help decrease cholesterol as well as the risk for heart disease and cancer. Many studies and years of research have confirmed that this is, in fact, true. Found in the germ, whole grains are a good source of unsaturated fat which helps lower cholesterol levels.  

Furthermore, whole grains are an excellent source of fiber which can also help lower cholesterol levels.

Fiber also aids in weight loss, because it helps keep you full longer. Another key role of fiber is to help regulate your digestive system; thus, it is nature’s broom, so to speak.

Antioxidants are also in the news lately. Research has shown they help protect the body from cancer causing agents. That means whole grains are a great source of antioxidants, too.

Finally, if you are still not convinced whole grains are the healthier choice, check out these facts. People who eat whole grains have a lower risk of obesity, as measured by their body mass index and their waist-to-hip ratios, as well as lower cholesterol levels. People who eat three daily servings of whole grain have been shown to reduce their risk for heart disease by 25-36 percent, stroke by 37 percent, Type II Diabetes by 21-27 percent, digestive system cancers by 21-43 percent and hormone-related cancers by 10-40 percent.

Next time you are shopping, choose whole grain products. There are many products available besides bread. Options include dry cereals, oatmeal, pastas, rice, bagels, rolls, pancake mixes, muffin mixes, and crackers.

But, do not be fooled by the color. Just because it is brown does not mean it is whole grain. Be sure to check the label for the ingredients. Look for these key words:  whole grain, whole wheat, or whole kernel.

Make whole grains a part of a healthy and balanced diet, so you can lead a long and happy life. Personalized meal plans and more information about grains can be found at