Can you explain the difference between a "whole" grain and a refined grain?
Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the naturally occurring nutrients and layers of the entire grain seed. The three layers that comprise a "whole" grain include the bran, germ and endosperm. Each layer provides important nutrients for good health. The outermost layer of the whole grain, called the bran, contains dietary fiber, b-vitamins and antioxidants. The germ is the embryo of the grain, and contains b-vitamins, minerals, some protein, and healthy unsaturated fats. The endosperm is the largest part of the grain and consists primarily of carbohydrate, some protein, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
A refined grain has had the germ and bran layers removed, taking with it 25% of the protein, almost all of the dietary fiber, and a number of vitamins and minerals. Manufacturers of refined grains often add back a few vitamins and minerals that they've stripped from the grain (a process called "enrichment"), but the food still falls short of the naturally occurring nutrients and dietary fiber contained in a whole grain.
Whole grains contain health promoting antioxidants, b-vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and dietary fiber. Diets rich in whole grains have been linked to lower cholesterol, and lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. What's more, the dietary fiber in whole grains helps fill you up and stave off hunger for longer periods, aiding in weight control. Diets high in refined grains (think white bread, rice and pasta) can't boast any of these protective health benefits.
To help combat the battle of the bulge and reduce your risk factors for heart disease, it's best to choose at least 3 whole grain servings each day. However, at Cleveland Clinic we'd like to see ALL your grain choices as whole grain. Making the switch can be easy, as long as you read food labels carefully. Here are two easy ways to tell if a food product is a whole grain:
- The first ingredient in a whole grain food should include "100% whole grain (wheat, oat, corn, etc) flour." If the first few ingredients list refined or enriched flour, it's a refined grain.
- Check and see if the food boasts the Whole Grain Stamp developed by the nonprofit group Whole Grains Council. The "Whole Grain" stamp means the product contains a half-serving or more of whole grains. The "100% Whole Grain" stamp means all of the grain in a food product is whole grain. For more information, visit .
If you still feel a bit confused, here is a quick list of some common whole grains you can find in most major supermarkets:
- Oatmeal - steel cut, instant or Old Fashioned
- 100% whole wheat breads, English muffins, crackers
- 100% whole wheat tortillas or flatbreads
- 100% whole grain (wheat, corn, oat) cereals
- Whole wheat couscous
- Wild rice
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat pasta
For more information on a heart-healthy diet plan, please contact the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at 216.444.9353 (or toll-free at 800.223.2273, extension 49353) and we can schedule a nutrition consultation - or - use our Remote Cardiac Nutrition Counseling Services.