Sifting through the facts about whole grains

/ Source: TODAY

Last year the USDA recommended we eat six servings of grains a day, three of which should be whole grains. But unfortunately, most Americans are still consuming only one serving of whole grains each day. So what's the best way get your fill? Nutritionist Joy Bauer has the scoop.

Last year, the USDA nutrition guidelines told Americans to get at least three daily servings of whole grains — that’s three plus ounces. Fortunately, with hundreds of brand new, whole grain products hitting the shelves, consumers have plenty to choose from.

Here’s why you should eat them … and how to choose the best of the best:

What exactly is a whole grain?

Whole grains are literally grains that are whole. They must contain all three parts of a grain — the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

  • Bran: Tough outer layer that contributes fiber
  • Germ: Core of the grain and loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber
  • Endosperm: Starchy middle layer that provides a lot of carbohydrates. Often the only part in processed, refined white bread  

How do whole grains differ from refined grains?

Refined grains

Refined grains, and products made with them, have had parts of the whole grain removed — the bran and germ — to give the grain a finer texture. Some examples of fine grains are white flour and white rice; products made with refined grains include white bread, many crackers and baked goods.

Enriched grains

Most refined grains are enriched, which means certain B vitamins and iron are added back after processing.

Why go whole grain? And where are they found?

Aside from providing nutrients, antioxidants and fiber, whole grains are also absorbed more slowly in our bodies (compared to refined grain, like white bread and rice). This slower absorption can help prevent spikes in sugar and insulin, which in turn may decrease the risk for diabetes and heart disease.

In a study published in the January 2006 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (HNRCA) found that consuming a diet rich in whole grain foods may lower an elderly person's risk for cardiovascular disease and reduce the onset of metabolic syndrome.

Another study conducted by Harvard researchers concluded that whole grain consumption reduced the risk for heart disease (published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004). And two additional studies reported that people who regularly consumed whole grains were able to reduce their risk of diabetes by 21 percent to 27 percent and improve their fasting insulin levels. (Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2003; 62(1): 143-9 and Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003; 78(5): 965-971.)

Sources of whole grain

  • Whole wheat flour
  • Whole grain barley
  • Oats
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Corn
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice/Wild rice
  • Wheat berries  

Navigating through the supermarket: How do you really know if a product is whole grain?

Read food labels! They are your best tool for determining whether a product provides ample whole grains, and people should take full advantage. The bottom line: Check the food product’s ingredient list and ensure that one of the first ingredients starts with the word “whole” or “oats.” Phrases like “stoned wheat,” “cracked wheat” and “wheat flour” don’t guarantee the presence of whole grain.

Good label: Arnold Whole Grain Classics Seven Grain

“Whole wheat flour” is the first ingredient. This product provides whole grains!

Bad label: Arnold Carb Counting Multi Grain

“Wheat flour” is first ingredient. No whole grains in this product.

*If you find label reading overwhelming, consumers can also trust the eye-catching black and gold “Whole Grain Stamp” that often appears on a food product’s packaging. This stamp has been permitted to appear by the Whole Grain Council and guarantees that a product has at least a half serving of whole grains per portion.

How to get the recommended three plus servings each day:


Lose this:

  • Cold cereal: Special K, Rice Krispies, Fruit Loops
  • Hot cereal: Cream of Wheat
  • English muffin: Thomas White English Muffins, Thomas Hearty Grain Multi Grain
  • Waffles: Eggo Frozen Homestyle or Buttermilk
  • Pancake mix: Aunt Jemima Original Pancake and Waffle Mix

Choose this:

  • Cold cereal: Plain Cheerios, Wheaties, Total, Shredded Wheat, Kashi Mighty Bites, Cascadian Farms Wheat Crunch, Barbara’s Shredded Oats
  • Hot cereal: Quaker Traditional Oats
  • English muffin: Thomas Hearty Grain 100% Whole Wheat
  • Waffles: Frozen Eggo NutriGrain (made with whole grain), Van's Multi-Grain (or Blueberry), Flax Plus Frozen Waffles
  • Pancake mix: Hodgson Mill Insta-Bake Whole Wheat Pancake Mix, Aunt JemimaWhole Wheat Pancake and Waffle Mix


Lose this:

  • White Bread
  • White Tortilla Wraps
  • White Pita Bread

Choose this:

  • Whole grain bread (some examples include: Wonder Stoneground 100% Whole Wheat, Pepperidge Farm 100% Whole Wheat, Arnold Natural 100% Whole Wheat and Arnold Stoneground Multigrain)
  • Whole Wheat Tortilla
  • Whole Wheat Pita Bread


Lose this:

  • White Rice
  • White Spaghetti
  • White couscous  

Choose this:

  • Brown Rice
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole Grain Blends: (for example, Rice A Roni Savory Whole Grains)


Lose this:

  • Refined Crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Refined Cookies

Choose this:

  • Whole Grain Crackers: 100% Whole Grain Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Whole Wheat Ritz crackers, WASA Crackers
  • Light Popcorn: (i.e., Bachman Lite, Boston Lite)
  • Granola Bars: (i.e., Nature Valley)
  • Whole Grain Cookies: 100% Whole Grain Fig Newtons, 100% Whole Grain Chips Ahoy

For more information on healthy eating, visit nutrition expert Joy Bauer on her Web site,