Health Library

Eating Whole Grains

Why Grains Are Good

IMAGE Grains are found foods like bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal, cereal, and tortillas. Most of the foods we eat are refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, pasta, and pretzels. Most of the nutrients in refined grains have been removed during processing.

White flour, which is the base of many of our foods, is made by refining whole grains. White flour that has been enriched has some nutrients added to it, such as iron and some B vitamins (including folate). But other important nutrients are lost, such as vitamins E and B6, magnesium, copper, zinc, and plant-based chemicals.

A whole grain still has all of the nutrients found in the grain kernel. This includes the bran and germ. Whole grains also have more B vitamins, fiber, carbohydrates, minerals, and proteins. Whole grains are a healthier choice because they have nutrients that may help to lower the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Soluble fiber, which is found in oats and barley, can also lower cholesterol levels.

How to Get Your Grains

It is easy to get plenty of servings of grains each day. Adults need about 5 to 8 servings per day, depending on age and activity level. The list below gives some examples of single servings of grains. Some are refined grains and others are whole grains. Look at some of your favorites and think about where you can switch to whole grains.

  • 1 cup flaked cereal
  • ½ cup of cooked oatmeal, grits, or cream-of-wheat cereal
  • ¼ cup nugget or bud-type cereal
  • 3 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 1 pancake or waffle, 4 inch diameter
  • ½ English muffin, hamburger roll, pita, or bagel (frozen kind; those from bagel shops can be up to 4 servings)
  • 1 slice of bread or dinner roll
  • 1 tortilla, 6 inch diameter
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or barley
  • ½ cup quinoa, bulgur, millet, or other whole grain
  • ½ cup pretzels
  • 5 whole wheat crackers

Finding the Whole Grain

At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. The more you eat, the better.

It can be hard to find out which grains are whole grains. You will need to check the nutrition label. The product is a whole grain if the first item is whole wheat, oatmeal, or another whole grain. The following are whole grains:

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Popcorn
  • Bulgur
  • Whole grain farro
  • Hulled barley

These are some foods are made with whole grains:

  • Some cold breakfast cereals, such as Cheerios, granola or muesli, Grape-Nuts, Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat, Total, Wheat germ, or Wheaties
  • Some hot breakfast cereals, such as Oat Bran, oatmeal, Roman Meal, or Wheatena
  • Some crackers, such as Triscuits or Wheat Thins

Many cereal makers have switched to whole grain products. Check the box to see if the one you eat has them.

There are many options for grains, so look for foods you may like. If you do not like one, try another. It may take some time to get used to it, but it is worth the effort.

Resources

Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
http://www.choosemyplate.gov

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org

Canadian Resources

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

Health Canada
http://www.canada.ca

References

Grains. My Plate—US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/grains. Accessed June 17, 2021.

DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/dash-diet. Accessed June 17, 2021.

Whole grains, refined grains, and dietary fiber. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/whole-grains-refined-grains-and-dietary-fiber. Accessed June 17, 2021.