Whole Grains: Nutrition Facts

Get the facts on whole grains: types, nutrition, ways to use in recipes, and more. Learn how whole grains help in health and chronic disease prevention.
Whole Grains: Nutrition Facts - Videos


Nutrition/Family and Consumer Sciences

More by Nancy Routch, RD, LDN 

View Transcript

- [Voiceover] Whole grains.

Everyone's talking about whole grains.

The US 2010 dietary guidelines recommend that Americans eat at least half their grain intake as whole grains.

This means every one aged nine and up should eat three to five servings or more of whole grains every day out of the recommended six daily grains servings.

So what is a whole grain?

A whole grain contains all three parts of the kernel.

The bran, the germ and the endosperm.

The bran is the outside coat of the kernel and it contains B vitamins and fiber.

The germ is the embryo which if fertilized will sprout to make a new plant.

It contains B vitamins, protein and healthful fats.

The endosperm is the germ's food supply and is mainly starchy carbohydrates and some proteins.

Most grains that are milled, such as wheat, have the germ and bran removed, which also removes many of the grain's nutrients.

The remaining endosperm is used to make flour.

Some examples of whole grain include whole wheat, corn, brown rice, wild rice, farro, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt rye, bulgur, millet and popcorn.

Whole grains can be whole, cracked, ground, rolled or flaked kernels.

But the mix of endosperm, germ and bran must match that of the intact grain.

Whole grains are important because they supply B vitamins, protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and vitamin E.

The fiber in whole grains is mostly insatiable and it is important for maintaining regular digestive flow.

Current scientific evidence also shows that whole grains play an important role in lowering the risk of stroke, heart disease, type two diabetes, obesity and some digestive system cancers.

They also help with weight control.

It is important to know that fiber varies from grain to grain.

For example, brown rice has 3,5% fiber while barley and bulgur have over 15%.

Both fiber and whole grains have been shown to have health benefits but they are not interchangeable.

Check the nutrition facts label to find out whether a product is made from whole grain and how much fiber it contains.

Whole grain foods may contain different amounts of whole grain ingredients but they all can count towards getting the recommended number of whole grain servings each day.

Whether a food counts as a grain serving can usually be determined by using one ounce equivalents.

For example, a slice of bread, or one cup of ready to eat breakfast cereal usually weighs an ounce.

A one-ounce equivalent grain product will contain at least 16 grams of a grain plus 12 grams of other ingredients, such as the water and sugar in bread.

So, you might get three servings of whole grain by eating three one-ounce equivalents of whole grain food labelled as 100% whole grain or by choosing six one-ounce equivalents made with a mix of whole and refined grains.

The United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, defines a grain serving as a grain product containing at least 16 grams of flour.

To be a whole grain serving the product you eat has to have at least 16 grams of whole grain.

The dietary guidelines recommend that at least three of Americans' daily six grain servings be whole grain.

Three servings of whole grain food daily adds up to 48 grams of whole grain.

So, just how do you find whole grain products in the super market?

It's not easy.

Current food labeling can make it difficult to find the whole grain in a food product.

Whole grain does not appear on the nutrition facts panel.

And the ingredient list may not clearly indicate the amount of whole grain present in a food.

Luckily there are tools you can use to help you choose whole grains at the supermarket.

First, look at the ingredient label.

If the first ingredient says whole before a type of grain, for example whole wheat flour, whole oats or whole rye, then the product is more likely to be a whole grain product.

However, this is not guaranteed.

If the whole grain appears farther down the list, the more likely it is that the product does not have enough whole grain to make the USDA serving.

You can also look for the whole grain stamp on the package.

This stamp makes it easy to find products with whole grains.

The 100% whole grain stamp lets you know that a food contains a full serving of 16 grams or more of whole grains in each labeled serving and that all the grain is whole grain.

There is also a basic whole grain stamp that signifies that a product contains at least eight grams or half a serving of whole grain per labeled serving but may also contain some refined grain.

You may find food companies stating the amount of whole grains in a serving of their product or using a whole grain symbol to illustrate foods with whole grains.

This will be on the front or top of boxes where you can see it as you shop.

This is becoming more common on cereal packages.

Just be sure to also check the ingredient label.

Now it's time to examine your food choices.

Our most common sources of whole grain are breads, cereals and crackers.

Take a look at the packages in your pantry.

How many would qualify as whole grains.

If not many try to replace some of these refined grains with whole grains.

Try substituting white rice or pasta with brown rice, wild rice or whole wheat pasta.

You can also experiment with ancient grains that are making a comeback, including quinoa, farro, bulgur, millet, spelt and sorghum.

Many people choose these ancient grains because they're nutrient rich and high in protein and fiber.

Some are chosen as gluten free alternatives to traditional grains and many are less processed or modified.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Quinoa is a great source of protein.

It has a nutty, smokey flavor and can be used just like rice.

It can be served hot or cold.

Farro is the oldest cultivated grain in the world.

It has a chewy, firm texture and can be used in soups and salads.

Bulgur is very high in fiber and low in fat.

It is commonly used in cold salads and stir fried dishes.

Spelt has a sweet nutty flavor which is similar to barley.

It is found in whole berries ground into flour.

Spelt is commonly used for baking.

It can also be cooked and substitute for rice and pasta for many dishes.

Millet is originally from China and North Africa and it has a mild corn-like flavor.

It is rich in magnesium.

It can be used in salads and stir fry or warmed with milk for breakfast.

Sorghum is gluten free and has a chewy texture.

It can served hot or cold and can replace noodles in soups and stews.

Don't be afraid to experiment.

Try making risottos, pilafs and other rice-like dishes with whole grains such as barley, bulgur, milet, quinoa or sorghum for added nutrition and taste.

As you try different whole grains you will find that they are delicious as well as healthy.


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