What makes a “whole grain” different from a “refined” one? Modern milling machinery scrapes off he outer layers of the grain and removes the “germ”. Only the residue is ground into flour. The resulting product is lighter colored than flour ground from the entire grain kernel, and will keep longer without spoiling. Flour ground from grain milled according to modern techniques is very fine, and produces lighter, puffier breads and pastries. But, the food value of these baked goods is considerably lower than it would have been had the flour been ground from the entire kernel (producing heavier more dense baking products).
A grain that has all parts of the original kernel intact, meaning it contains the fiber-rich bran, the nutrient rich germ, and the starchy endosperm, is considered “whole.” When a grain is refined, the bran and germ are removed, and the flour is made from the endosperm. Most of the fiber, protein, and a number of vitamins and minerals are removed, too. In addition, numerous phytochemicals are tossed out with the bran and germ. These plant chemical nutrients play important roles in our health. The endosperm does contain some nutrients, but not as much as the original kernel.
By law in the United States, refined grains are required to be enriched, meaning that some of the lost nutrients — thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, iron, and folic acid — must be added back in. Nutrients that are not replaced are vitamins E, K, and B-6, pantothenic acid, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, protein, and fiber.
It’s easy to be tricked into thinking a food is a whole grain when it’s not. Just because a grain product is dark doesn’t necessarily mean it is a whole grain. Sometimes molasses or caramel coloring is added to breads, darkening them. Coarseness may be due to added fiber — which doesn’t necessarily add nutrients. Crustiness has more to do with the baking method than with the whole grain content. When an ingredient is listed as unbleached wheat flour, it is still refined flour and not a whole grain.
The only real way to determine if a product is whole grain is if the phrase “whole grain” appears as the first ingredient in the ingredient section of the food label. Many of the “light” (lower calorie) breads are refined; often they contain added processed fiber. While the fiber is beneficial, the bread is missing many of the antioxidants, plant chemicals, and other nutrients originally present in the grain.
Corn is a whole grain — on the cob, from the can, frozen, or as popcorn. Cornflakes aren’t a whole grain, just as other foods made from cornmeal aren’t, such as corn muffins and tortillas.
Whole grains in some form are a traditional part of every culture’s eating habits. Yet the trends toward white sugar, white rice, and white flour are strong. Unfortunately many Americans eat virtually no whole grains and that can be a bad thing for the human digestive system. In addition to the vitamins and minerals in the oil-rich germ (embryo) of the grain, the fiber contained in the outside layers is thought to be important in the prevention of cancer of the colon, gallbladder ailments and perhaps even heart disease. In areas of the world where fiber-rich whole grains are a major part of the diet, the incidence of intestinal digestive complaints is remarkably low (I have included many web links on the CD to verify the research done by the medical community on whole grains and the digestive benefits). From: The New Book of Whole Grains. M.A. Bumgarner
Reuters Health: Mar 13, 2001. Reporting on a study of nearly 34,000 Norwegian adults. In this study those who ate the highest amounts of whole grain had a 23% reduced risk of death from heart disease, and a 21% reduced risk of death from cancer compared with people who ate little or no whole grains. Because of this and because there have been similar findings among Americans, the United States Department of Agriculture is recommending that Americans “eat a variety of grains daily, especially whole grains.”