Whole Grains

Why is it beneficial to include whole grains in my diet?

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. Eating whole grains is beneficial because they have:

Vitamins They are important sources of many several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate). The B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin play a key role in metabolism – they help the body release energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Fiber Dietary fiber is important for digestion and may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Minerals They contain zinc, iron, magnesium and manganese.
Protein They provide several grams of protein per serving.
Antioxidants Several compounds in whole grains act as antioxidants. These include phytic acid, lignin and sulfur compounds.

Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Most refined grains are enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains.

All types of grains are good sources of carbohydrates and some key vitamins and minerals, but whole grains, in particular, are an important part of a nourishing diet.

How do I tell if a food is whole grain?

It's not always easy to tell what kind of grains a product has, especially bread. For instance, a brown bread isn't necessarily whole wheat — the brown hue may come from added coloring.

If you're not sure if a food is a whole grain, follow these steps:

  1. Check the information on the package. Choose bread, cereal, tortillas, pasta and other products with “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” labels on the package. Packages may say “made with whole grains”, but that doesn’t mean the product is 100% whole grain. A good example of this would be multigrain breads. Some multigrain breads can be made with whole grains, but may only contain a small amount of whole grains. If you’re unsure, it’s best to use our next tip and look at the ingredients list.

  2. Check the ingredients list.  If the word “whole” is before the first ingredient listed (for example, whole wheat flour), then it is a whole grain. There is an exception for some foods are always whole grains, like oatmeal, brown rice and popcorn. It it might not say “whole” in the ingredients list, but it is a whole grain.

How many whole grains should I eat?

The amount of grains you should eat a day depends on your age, sex and level of physical activity. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of all the grains you eat are whole grains, so your goal is to aim for a balance of whole and refined grains throughout the day.

Grains are measured in ounces. In general, 1 slice of bread, 1 small tortilla, 1 cup of cereal or ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta or oatmeal is equivalent to 1 ounce of grains. To find out more about specific grain recommendations, check out the daily grain table.

How can I add more whole grains to my diet?

If you’d like to add more whole grains to your diet, try:

  • Buying whole grains in small quantities from bulk bins, so you can try them first.
  • Using a rice cooker to prepare whole grains. Checkout this chart for cooking times and settings.
  • Making overnight oats as a quick and filling meal. The UC Davis Teaching Kitchen Pinterest has overnight oat recipes you can try.
  • Swapping whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other baking recipes.
  • Trying rolled oats, whole grain flour or whole grain crackers for breading meat, fish or vegetables.
  • Snacking on popcorn.