The Truth About Whole Grains

Why you shouldn’t go whole hog on whole grains

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #155

What is Glycemic Load?

“Glycemic Load” refers to how a given food affects your blood sugar level. It’s related to the glycemic index, but I find glycemic load more useful because it also takes into account how much of that food you eat—which, as you’ll see in a moment, makes a really big difference. 

The glycemic load of a small plate of regular (white) pasta as about 23, which is considered high. The glycemic load of a small plate of whole wheat pasta is only 15, which is moderate.   A large plate of whole wheat pasta, however, has a glycemic load of 30, or very high.  Here’s the point that I want to make:  In terms of your blood sugar, a small plate of white pasta is better than a large plate of whole wheat pasta.

Quick and Dirty Tip:  Choosing a whole grain option does not give you license to have a larger helping.  It’s important to watch portion size with all grain-based foods—even whole grain foods. 

What is Nutrient Density?

“Nutrient density” refers to how much nutrition a food provides for the calories. If one food provides the same nutritional value as another but has only half the calories, we say it is twice as nutrient-dense.  For all the talk about the nutritional value of whole grains, you’d probably think that they are much more nutrient dense than refined grains—but they’re really not.

On a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 representing the most nutrition for the calories and 0 representing the least, most refined grain products, such as white bread, pasta, and rice, are in the 2.5 to 2.8 range.  The whole grain alternatives range from 2.9 to 3.3 or so—a bit better.  Most vegetables, on the other hand, are way up in the 4.5 to 5.0 range.

Quick and Dirty Tip: Replacing a refined grain with a whole grain alternative offers a slight nutritional upgrade but nowhere near as big an upgrade as replacing it with an extra serving of  vegetables.

See also:  Are Grains Really Necessary to a Healthy Diet?

The Bottom Line on Whole Grains

Cutting down on refined grains and replacing them with whole grains—in moderation—or other nutritious foods like vegetables, is a good way to improve your diet. But eating large quantities of grain-based foods—even when they’re whole grains—is not necessarily the path to better health.

Have any comments and questions about grains? Post them below in Comments!

Grains image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.