There is some confusion about the difference between whole grains and refined grains, especially with all the attention low carbohydrate diets are getting. Grains are plant-based foods that are primarily made up of carbohydrates. If you do enjoy eating grains, you should know that some are healthier to consume than others.
Whole grains are those that have not gone through processing to remove the bran and germ. Each berry, kernel, grass, or seed is in its whole form. Unrefined grains are nutrient-dense and quite high in essential dietary fiber. The bran and germ contain high amounts of protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous.
There are a variety of nutritious whole grains, as well as products that have been milled from whole grains into flours and meals to be used in baking and porridges. Whole grains include:
- Black, brown, and wild rice
- Corn kernels
- Wheat berries
- Whole wheat (including farro, kamut, and spelt)
All refined grains were once whole grains. The difference is in the way the grain is milled. Refined grains are processed to remove the bran, germ, and oil to produce a finer, and dryer texture which strips the grain of many nutrients and dietary fiber. The endosperm is what is left. This is the portion of the grain that is highest in carbohydrates.
So, why do we process grains this way? The simple answer is that it extends the shelf life of the grain or flour by removing any moisture. Many refined grains are further processed into flours and cereals. These are some common refined grain products:
- Certain corn flours
- Many wheat pastas
- White wheat flour and white bread
- White rice
When you browse the center aisles of the supermarket you are likely to see many packaged items that contain grains, much of which are refined. The baking product shelves will have plenty of refined grain flour options, as will the pasta and rice shelves. Many stores now offer a large variety of whole-grain products that will be labeled as such. When given the option, choose whole grains and whole-grain products over refined for optimal health benefits because whole grains are more nutrient-dense than refined grains.