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Is It Really Whole Grain?

When the label says "Whole Grain Bread", does that mean it's healthful? How can you tell if a food is made from whole grains or refined grains?

It's not always easy, but here are a few tips. Remember that the germ of a grain seed will go rancid very quickly after the seed is broken open unless it is cooked immediately. Most whole-grain breakfast cereals and "quick cooking" whole grain products (such as bulgur or instant brown rice) are steamed, toasted or otherwise cooked as soon as the seed is broken, so there is no need to remove the germ. These products usually contain the whole grain.

On the other hand, commercial products made from flour frequently have the germ and some or most of the fiber removed, so the flour can be stored without turning rancid. Manufacturers may mix some toasted wheat germ or fiber back in, but they don't have to explain that on the label. Healthy-sounding terms such as whole grain, multi-grain, cracked wheat, rye or stone-ground do not mean you're getting 100 percent of the grain. I only trust "whole wheat" bread bought from local bakers who grind their own wheat and bake it the same day.  In the United States, food manufacturers can label their product "whole grain" as long as at least 51 percent of the grains are whole grains, so you have no way to know how much you are actually getting.  It's easiest to eat WHOLE grains that look like seeds; that way you can be sure none of the fiber or nutrients have been taken away.  

Almost all corn products have the germ and fiber removed: grits, hominy, corn meal, corn flour (masa harina) and breakfast cereals made from milled corn are all refined grains. Most rice products such as cereals, rice cakes and rice crackers are made from white rice unless they specify brown rice as the first ingredient.

When you shop for a new cereal or grain product such as whole wheat bread or pasta, read the labels. Look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. More fiber is better! A 50-gram serving of wheat berries has 8 grams of fiber, so use that as your yardstick to guess whether the manufacturer has removed parts of the grain.  Also check the list of ingredients to make sure added fiber powders have not been used to boost the fiber content.   Eat a wide variety of whole grains and whole grain products and get the nutritional benefits of them all.

Checked 1/23/19

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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