What does “whole grain” really mean?

17400-various-breads-and-grains-pvCan you spot the whole grain in this photo?

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what constitutes a “whole grain”. I’m not sure why as it’s really pretty simple. A whole grain not only contains the inner germ, the middle endosperm layer and the outer bran, it’s also … well, whole. You can see it with your eyes. You can feel it with your hands. It looks like a grain. It has defined edges.

A lot of processed foods like to splash “Made with 100% whole grain!” all over their packaging but if the grain has been milled into flour to make that product, it’s no longer a whole grain. It’s flour. The cell walls have been broken, the fats have been oxidized and a lot of the nutrient content has been lost. You’re no longer getting the benefits, however small, of consuming whole grains.

As far as those benefits go, whole grains do contain fiber, B vitamins, small amounts of protein and some healthy fats. But the truth is, if you’re eating a variety of fresh vegetables, leafy greens, seafood, nuts and meats, particularly organ meats, you’re already getting everything that whole grains have to offer from a nutritional standpoint. And you’re getting far fewer insulin-spiking carbohydrates.

Whole grains do add a nutty flavor and chewy texture to meals, and they also can help stretch higher quality ingredients over a greater number of servings. Just keep in mind that the nutritional content compared to the foods listed above is relatively low and that the carbohydrate content is quite high.

If you do choose to eat whole grains, I highly recommend eating TRULY whole grains and entirely avoiding products made from grain flour. The Whole Grains Council has a handy guide to cooking a huge variety of grains in their whole, unprocessed form. It’s also a good idea to soak, ferment and/or sprout your grains before cooking to aid digestion.

And if you choose not to include grains in your diet? As long as you’re eating a variety of fresh, unprocessed plant and animal foods, you’re not missing a thing.

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What does “whole grain” really mean?