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Multi-grain vs. Whole-grain

Whole grains are great for you. But things aren’t always what they appear.

By
Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N,
Episode #005

The latest dietary guidelines advise us to eat at least three servings of whole grains every day, which can help prevent things like heart disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. In other words, at least half of all the grains that you eat should be whole grain.

Being the nutrition-conscious type that you are, you have probably taken this message to heart and are doing your best to eat more whole grains. But if you are confusing “multi-grain” products with “whole-grain” products, you may still be falling short of the mark.

The Whole Truth About Whole Grains

Whole grain products contain all the parts of the grain: the germ, which is rich in essential fatty acids and b-vitamins; the endosperm, which is mostly starch; and the bran, which, of course, is high in fiber. In products made with refined grains, on the other hand, most of the germ and bran have been removed, leaving the starchy endosperm, which is the least nutritious part of the grain.

And here’s something I was surprised to learn: Whole grains, much like the Nutrition Diva herself—are greater than the sum of their parts. You might think that you could take some refined flour, add some bran, essential fatty acids, and b-vitamins, and end up with the equivalent of a whole grain. Not so!

The health benefits that you get from eating actual whole grains add up to more than what you’d get out of eating the equivalent amount of fiber or any of the other nutrients we know they contain. Researchers suspect that the whole grains also contain phytochemicals that we don’t know about, and these compounds are responsible for some of the good effects. Somehow, the whole package as it occurs in nature offers something we can’t quite replicate in the food lab.

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