What is a Whole Grain?


* Photo taken from Earnest Holistic Health

The difference between a simple carbohydrate and a complex carbohydrate, in reference to grains,  is summed up in this diagram. Whole grains contain the WHOLE grain, all three parts, which provide more nutrients and also force the body into breaking down the grain. Refined grains have been broken down and stripped of their nutrients and then often times replaced or enriched with synthetic nutrients. This is true with refined flours used in “white” pasta and “white” bread. Other sources of naturally occurring simple sugars include table sugar, maple syrup or honey for example.

Why are whole grains important? The answer is this: The process of allowing our bodies to break down the grain, gives way to slower absorption of sugar into our blood stream which is a good thing. Plus all the extra nutrients and fiber help to nourish our body, help us to feel fuller longer and protect against preventable disease. Please refer to the diagram above to note the nutrients within each part of the grain.

When shopping for grains, whether they are whole intact grains or grains as part of bread, pasta and cereal, look for the word WHOLE listed before each grain ensuring that it has all three parts. Also, ensure that the first word listed is a whole grain which means there is the most of that ingredient in the content of the food. Additionally, it is important to check the nutrient label for the most fiber per serving. The more fiber from the whole grain, the slower the abortion of sugar into the blood to keep blood sugars and appetite more stable. Adding lean proteins and vegetables to grains, especially refined grains, helps to produce feelings of satiety and fullness as well as providing additional nutrients. This is especially true if you eat refined pasta and bread.

  • Complex Carbohydrates: starchy vegetables, 100% whole grains, legumes
  • Simple Carbohydrates that provide vitamins & minerals: vegetables, milk, milk products and fruit. These are simple carbohydrates that are acceptable and part of a healthy, balanced diet. Enriched, refined white breads, pastas and some crackers still contain nutrients through enrichment that can be part of a healthy diet, but the focus needs to be limiting frequency and choosing whole grains more often than not. Also, watching portion sizes and adding in natural sources of fiber (i.e.vegetables) and lean protein when eating them to slow digestion and release of sugar into blood stream.
  • Simple Carbohydrates that are non nutritive (containing no nutrients): table sugar, soda, candy. You want to limit these as they are considered empty calories and contribute no benefit to your diet.