Whole Grains

People are often confused about the differences between foods labelled as whole wheat or whole grain. This article explains some of the differences and offers guidance on reading food labels, to help you choose whole grain products more often.

Benefits of Whole Grain

Whole grain products have been linked to a number of health benefits. Choosing whole grain products may help to lower your risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancers.
Alberta’s Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth places whole grain products, as well as mixed dishes containing whole grains, in the “choose most often” category.

Understanding Grains: Whole Grain and Whole Wheat

To understand the differences between whole grain and whole wheat, you have to first understand a little bit about the structure of grains such as wheat, oats, and barley. To be considered a whole grain product, a food must contain all three parts of the grain kernel (or seed).

Bran is the term used to describe the outer layer of the grain kernel. Whole grain bran is rich in fibre, B vitamins and minerals.

The endosperm is the part of the grain seed that lies just under the bran coating. It is the largest part of the grain kernel and is rich in carbohydrate and protein, essential nutrients needed for good health.
The germ is found in the centre of the grain kernel. The germ is a rich source of vitamin E, B vitamins, and some minerals.

Whole wheat flours or foods made with whole wheat flour, such as breads and rolls, are not whole grain products because of the way they are produced. During the milling process that is typically used to make whole wheat flour, some of the kernel is removed which results in a loss of the germ portion. As a result, foods labelled as being whole wheat are not as nutritious as foods labelled as being whole grain.
Some whole wheat flours overcome this problem by using production methods that keep the kernel intact. These flours (or foods made from them) are considered whole grains and will be labelled using the terms “whole grain whole wheat” or “whole wheat flour with added germ.” Be sure to look for these terms if you are choosing whole wheat products, such as 60% or 100% whole wheat breads, and to make sure your purchase is actually true whole grain.

Aim to Choose Whole Grain Products

Whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals play an important role in healthy eating. Whole grain products contain all three parts of the grain kernel and are rich in nutrients and fibre. Most of the time, aim to choose foods that are clearly labelled as being whole grain.

article reprinted, from “HealthyU”:http://www.healthyalberta.com

For more articles on healthy living and active living resources in Alberta, go to the Alberta Government’s Healthy U website.

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