What Makes a Whole Grain Whole?
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans define 100% whole-grain foods as those containing the total components of the grain seed, also called the grain kernel. Whole-grain flour refers to flour milled from the whole seed with nothing removed.
How much whole grain food do I need to eat?
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of your grains are whole grains. Based on the American-style Dietary Pattern, a person who consumes 2000-kcal* per day should include a six-ounce-equivalent of total grain, out of which 3 ounces should come from whole grains. 1 An example of a one-ounce equivalent of 100% whole grains would be one slice of whole wheat bread, ⅓ cup rolled oats, or ½ cup brown rice.
*Calories are a measure of energy in nutrition and exercise. Calories and kcal are used interchangeably and refer to the same amount of energy.
What are the current levels of intake for whole grains?
Globally and within the U.S., we currently under-consume whole grains. A 2019 University of Washington analysis evaluated dietary intake in 195 countries from 1990 to 2017 2 and found that, on average, global per capita consumption of whole grains amounts to 29g daily, which is only 23% of the USDA’s daily recommended level of 125g. The Dietary Guidelines also pointed out that 90% of the U.S. population failed to meet the recommendations for whole-grain intake.
Whole-grain vs. white bread: what’s the difference in nutrition?
Flours made from whole grains are nutritionally superior to flours made from refined grains from which the bran and germ, the most nourishing parts of the grain, have been removed. Although you may be accustomed to white bread’s taste, price, and texture, fresh whole wheat flour provides a flavorful source of many essential nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins, and minerals. For example, whole wheat flour contains ten grams of fiber per one hundred grams of dry weight, while enriched refined flours only have two to three grams.
Whole-grain vs. white bread: what’s the difference in taste?
Even professional bakers and chefs can be surprised by their first taste of bread made with freshly milled whole-grain flour: whole flour has flavor! The bran and germ contain the grain’s nutrients, and the nutrients contain the flavor. When not removed to make white flour, the nutrients bring forth subtle flavors often described as “fresh,” “earthy,” “grassy,” or “nutty,” the distinctions reflecting the nuances created by weather, soil, variety, and agricultural practices.
What are “enriched” grains and “fortified” grains?
You have probably seen the words “enriched” or “fortified” on the ingredient list of sandwich bread or breakfast cereal. “Enriched” refers to the milling procedure that separates the bran and germ from the endosperm and later recombines the milled endosperm with a portion of the original bran and germ. Many countries require the enrichment of refined grains to avoid nutritional epidemics such as beriberi, 3 vitamin B1 deficiency, and pellagra.4 “Fortified” means adding greatly-needed nutrients to foods that might not have had them in the first place 5. Fortification is not necessary for whole-wheat flour because nothing is removed; it retains 100% of the nutrition from the wheat kernels. Compared to enriched refined flour, whole wheat flour contains higher magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, and vitamin B6.
The ancient wheat varieties that are most cultivated and in use today are durum, emmer, einkorn, and spelt. It’s worth noting that not all breads made from “ancient grains” are 100% whole grain. Instead, some breads may contain ancient grains as one of the multiple grains found in the bread. For example, the Whole Foods 365 brand organic ancient grains sandwich bread is only 50% whole grain, as shown on its Whole Grain Stamp.5 Based on current literature,6 nutrition profiles of ancient and modern wheat varieties are generally similar.
What are the health benefits of eating whole grains?
Epidemiological and clinical studies have found that consuming whole grains could yield positive health outcomes7. Whole grains’ physical structure helps reduce the absorption of glucose and lipids, the higher dietary fiber facilitates gut mobility, and phytochemicals in the bran and endosperm may decrease oxidation and inflammation. In addition, whole-grain foods are rich in phenolic compounds, which interact with the gut bacteria to help lower glycemic response after a meal, aid with fecal bulking, produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids, and make you feel full! One meta-analysis “found that people who ate 70 grams/day of whole grains—compared with those who ate little or no whole grains—had a 22% lower risk of total mortality, a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, and a 20% lower risk of cancer mortality.” 8
For more about whole grain nutrition and increasing whole grain consumption, explore our conversations with dieticians Valerie Machinist and Adriene Worthington on the Tufts Food Lab interviews page
Hoping for a handout to share with customers? See our page on “How to Include More Whole Grains in Your Diet” in the Resources section [Link to How to include more whole grains in your diet]