When you’re in the grocery store or a food pantry, you might see phrases like “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on bread, crackers, and other kinds of snacks. But what does that really mean? What’s missing in products that aren’t 100% whole grain?
What is a whole grain?
To understand what a whole grain is and why it’s good for us, we need to understand its structure. A whole grain kernel is made up of three parts—the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. The bran is the outer layer and contains lots of fiber. The endosperm is the largest portion of the kernel and is primarily made up of carbohydrates that give us energy. Lastly, the germ provides us with important vitamins and minerals.
When something is a whole grain, it has all three parts of the kernel—the bran, endosperm, and germ—still intact and present in the food item. Some grains, however, have been stripped of the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm. These are called refined grains. Refined grains will give us energy, but they lack important benefits that whole grains provide. Without the fiber, refined grains break down in our stomach more quickly than whole grains, leaving us hungrier sooner. And without the germ, refined grains lack key vitamins and minerals that keep our bodies healthy.
Check out this video to see an experiment that explains how whole grains are digested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5z1AJV3x0h8
How can you tell if something is a whole grain?
Sometimes you’ll see a phrase like “100% Whole Wheat” or “Made With Whole Grains” on the front of the package, but the only way to really know if a food is a whole grain is to look at the ingredient list. This is located below or next to the nutrition label. If the first word of the first ingredient is the word “whole,” then that food is a whole grain!
What are some other types of whole grains?
Besides whole wheat (or other grain) flour, there are lots of other whole grains out there. Some other types of whole grains include:
Whole grain couscous
Check out this chart from the Whole Grains Council to learn how to cook these and other yummy whole grains!
How can I eat more whole grains?
Try some of the Kitchen’s whole grain recipes at home!
Mixed Berry Banana Baked Oatmeal: https://secondharvestkitchen.org/core/files/secondharvestkitchen/uploads/files/Mixed%20Berry%20Banana%20Baked%20Oatmeal.pdf
Zucchini Blueberry Pancakes: https://secondharvestkitchen.org/core/files/secondharvestkitchen/uploads/files/Zucchini%20Blueberry%20Pancakes.pdf
Black Bean Broccoli Quesadillas: https://secondharvestkitchen.org/core/files/secondharvestkitchen/uploads/files/Black%20Bean%20Broccoli%20Quesadilla.pdf
Peanut Butter & Jelly Granola Bars: https://secondharvestkitchen.org/core/files/secondharvestkitchen/uploads/files/Peanut%20Butter%20and%20Jelly%20Granola%20Bars.pdf