We are continually told to pick whole-wheat products over their refined, white counterparts, but what does the term “whole-wheat” actually mean?
The whole-wheat label denotes foods made with the entire wheat grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. These three elements combined bring many nutrients such as iron, zinc, manganese, folate, magnesium, copper, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, vitamin E, selenium, lignans and phenolic compounds (think phytonutrients), plus vitamin E, and many B vitamins. Whole grains are also a good source of protein, and most importantly, fiber.
When we process grains, we are typically removing the bran and germ which contain many of the nutrients and fiber that make whole grains so desirable and beneficial in our diets. In the processing of grains, the endosperm is typically the only part remaining which is intended to provide the energy source for the plant to grow. This energy source is called starch which is a simple carbohydrate or more commonly known as a simple sugar.
Refined grains are missing one or more of their three key parts (bran, germ, or endosperm). We also think of refined grains as being classically labeled “white” grains such as white bread, white pasta, etc.
On the other hand, enriched grains will add back fewer than a half dozen of the many missing nutrients and does so in proportions diﬀerent than they originally existed.
Researchers have linked low consumption of whole grains as a risk factor that could lead to chronic disease globally. Above refined wheat, perhaps the most important quality that whole-wheat offers is the fiber — plus the totality of nutrients that whole grains contain verses their enriched or refined counterparts. Fiber, also a carbohydrate, cannot be digested or absorbed but still offers many health benefits. Fiber slows down our digestion so that we don’t get a blood sugar spike after a meal, it helps to lower LDL cholesterol, it feeds our gut bacteria and aids in getting rid of toxic waste. Studies have shown that diets rich in whole grains may decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.
There are many ways to shift to consuming more whole grains rather than refined grains in your diet. Our recommendation is to do it slowly over time and start with a mixture of whole grains and refined grains. For example, preparing half white rice and half brown rice and mixing them together.
When baking, try half whole wheat flour and half white flour, and slowly over time, you will find that your tastes shift, and you begin to enjoy the rich nutty flavors of whole wheat flours. Another way to increase whole grains is to try new grains, such as quinoa, farro, and wheat berry. There is still room for refined grains in your life. Sometimes we want white rice with a stir fry. When consuming refined grains, aim for reducing your portion of them so you don’t have to totally eliminate them. An example is to eat 1/3 of a cup of white rice in lieu of ¾ cup white rice and double your veggie portion.
Our goal is to inspire you to explore new whole grain options and consume them more often.
When buying whole-wheat products, it is important to read the ingredients. Whole-wheat should be high on the list. Some breads marketed as whole-wheat are actually made from refined flour mixed with a small amount of whole grain, plus molasses or high-fructose corn syrup to make them brown. The Whole-Grain Council will place its stamp of approval on a product that contains at least 51% whole grains or 8g of whole grains per serving. Although some vitamins and minerals are typically added back to the refined-wheat product, the fiber cannot be added back.
Whole grains such as wheat berries, also called Pharaoh’s Wheat, are rich in antioxidants and can be turned into wonderful summer salads with diced vegetables or spinach. Mix whole-wheat couscous and bulgur with vegetables and fresh herbs for a quick side dish. For pasta dishes, enjoy whole-wheat penne or spaghetti with our Basic Quick Tomato Sauce and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
When baking, try substituting all-purpose white flour with whole-wheat pastry flour, or use a 50/50 mix of white and whole-wheat flour if you can’t find whole-wheat pastry flour. Try our Oatmeal & Date Cookies – ready to eat in 30 minutes and dairy-free as well!