The Whole Story on Whole Grains

When reading food labels, we often see the words "enriched" and "fortified," but what exactly do these terms mean? If a food has been "fortified," vitamins and minerals have been added to a food that originally does not contain this nutrient, such as Vitamin D fortified milk. When a product is "enriched," vitamins and minerals are added to a food that originally contained these nutrients before processing. For example, in the process of refining grains to make flour, many of the nutrients are lost. The flour is then enriched with iron, B vitamins (namely niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and folic acid), and often calcium. Because America's food industry has become highly processed, it is essential to fortify and enrich foods with vitamins and minerals to ensure optimal nutrition status of our nation.

However, all components of grain product cannot be enriched (i.e. enriched flour). During the process of refining flour, the "bran" and the "germ" are lost from the grain. Conversely, whole wheat flour keeps the bran, germ and endosperm in tact, hence the name "whole grain." This small alteration to the grain changes the fiber content, and therefore how fast our bodies metabolize the food. Whole wheat flour contains more fiber, meaning that it takes longer to digest, and does not spike blood sugar.

Consuming whole grains as part of a healthy diet has shown to reduce heart disease risk and help with weight management. The USDA recommends that half of your daily grains should be "whole." Examples include:

  • Brown rice and wild rice
  • Buckwheat, cracked wheat (bulgur), millet
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Rolled oats
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum
  • Whole grain barley, cornmeal, whole rye
  • Whole grain bread, crackers, pasta, cereals, buns, rolls, tortillas

A few tips on how to include more whole grains in your diet:


At the grocery, read the labels!

  • Look for "whole grain" products (multi-grain, stone-ground, 100% wheat, cracked wheat, seven-grain, and bran may not be whole grain products).
  • Look for the whole grain label.
  • Don't be deceived by the color. Not all brown bread is whole grain!
  • Choose grains with less added sugars (i.e. sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt-syrup, maple syrup, molasses, or raw sugar).

At home:

  • Substitute whole grains in your favorite recipes: meat and veggie coatings, baking, and cooking mixed dishes and casseroles.
  • Set an example for your kids by eating and serving whole grains. If your kids won't try it, gradually add it to their diet. For example, make mac n' cheese with half refined noodles and half whole wheat noodles. Or mix whole grain and refined grain cereals.