With so many different grain products, it can become quite a challenge sorting through all the options to make a nutritious choice. Whole grain products are a great source of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fibre. Choosing whole grains instead of refined grains can play an important role in lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancers.
What does whole grain mean?
A ‘whole grain’ refers to the entire seed of the plant from which crops (like wheat) could grow. The seed is also referred to as a kernel and is comprised of three edible parts:
- The bran. This is the outer layer, which is a rich source of fibre, minerals (like iron), and vitamins (specifically B vitamins, which are essential for immune function and metabolism).
- The endosperm. This is the inner layer, which is a source of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and protein.
- The germ. This is the portion of the kernel that has the potential to sprout into a new plant. It contains B vitamins, minerals, and Vitamin E (an antioxidant which protects the body’s cells from damage caused by substances called free radicals).
During the refining process (e.g. to make white flour) the bran and germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm behind (meaning more than half of the important nutrients are lost).
So what should I look for?
Be a savvy shopper and have a look at the nutrition facts table and ingredient list. Here’s what to watch out for:
- The whole grain should appear first on the ingredient list.
- Look for products made from whole grain flours like whole grain whole wheat, whole oats, whole corn, whole rye, whole barley, or other whole grains.
- Compare brands and choose the higher fibre options. Select breads with at least 2g of fibre per slice. (If a product boasts a “high fibre” nutrition claim, it will contain at least 4g of fiber per serving).
- The Whole Grain Council Stamp: Food product bearing the 100% Whole Grain Council stamp here in Canada is certified to only contain 100% whole grain ingredients. Visit the Whole Grain Council’s page here for an example of the stamps and more information: https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grain-stamp/canadian-stamp
It may surprise you that…
Whole wheat does not necessarily mean whole grain. In Canada, a loaf of bread may be labeled as 100% whole wheat, but may contain whole and some refined wheat flour. Look for “whole grain whole wheat flour” on the ingredient list; this means the products is only made from non-refined flour.
Some more “lingo”
Product descriptors can makes things even trickier. They might describe the process in which the flour was made (e.g. “stone ground”) or the types of grains used to make the product (e.g. multigrain). Here are some other terms to be aware of:
- “Enriched” – refers to grain products that have had nutrients added back after the refining process (this could include minerals like iron and B vitamins).
- “Multigrain” – refers to the fact that there is more than one type of grain present in the product, but this does not tell us about the grains themselves (whole vs. refined).
- “100% wheat/other grain” – this lets us know the product is made entirely of wheat/other grain, but does not provide details regarding the level of refining of the grains used (whole, refined, or a mix of both).
- “Made with whole grains” – these products contain some whole grain, but they do not have to be made from all whole grains.
If you need some more information or have questions, connect with your Copeman dietitian. We would love to help!
Are you interested in learning more best practices for a healthy diet? Check out our guide.