Nutrition Facts: Whole Grains

Nutrition Facts: Whole Grains

Whole Grains & Refined Grains: What’s the Difference?

Every whole grain kernel consists of three parts: bran, endosperm and germ. Each part provides different nutrients and other components that contribute to the health promoting benefits of whole grains. Whole grain foods contain all of these parts in the same amounts originally present before processing.

  • Bran - Outer layer of the grain that contains fiber, antioxidants, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and 50-80% of minerals in grains like iron, copper, zinc, magnesium
  • Endosperm - middle largest layer containing mostly carbohydrates, protein, and small amounts of some B vitamins and minerals
  • Germ - inner component containing healthy fats, B vitamins, phytochemicals and antioxidants like vitamin E

Refined grains are mainly composed of only the endosperm portion of the grain. The milling process removes most of the bran and some germ, along with the majority of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. As much as 75% of phytochemicals (phytonutrients) are lost in the refining process.

Fact sheet - Nutrition: Whole Grains (PDF)

Phytochemicals Fight Disease Recommended Servings
Phytochemicals are naturally occurring chemicals in plants which give plant foods their color and flavor.

Interestingly, in humans phytochemicals can help to protect against chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2-diabetes and cancer.

Hundreds of different phytochemicals exist in whole grains!
Eat at least 3 oz. or 48 grams

(3 servings) of whole grain each day

1 serving = 16 grams or 1 oz. of whole grain

How Much Food Counts as a Serving of Whole Grain?
1 slice of 100% whole grain bread
½ cup cooked 100% whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, or oatmeal (1 ounce dry)
5 small whole wheat crackers
2 rye crisp breads
1 small 100% whole wheat flour tortilla or corn tortilla (6” diameter)
3 cups of popped popcorn
1 cup cold whole grain cereal flakes


Enrichment Replaces a Few Nutrients
Refining flour gave bakery products a longer shelf life and a softer, more desirable texture. In the early 1940s, the government started to require enrichment of refined flour with some B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin) and iron due to these nutrient deficiencies found in servicemen.

Enrichment is the replacement of certain vitamins and minerals that were removed in processing. However, grain enrichment does not replace many of the health promoting components originally found in whole grains. 

Whole Grain Intake is Low!

  • Only 4% of U.S. adults and children over 12 are consuming sufficient whole grains.
  • On average, children consume less than one serving of whole grain each day.
  • About 20% of children ages 2-18 are not eating any whole grains.

Why Switch to Whole Grains? Interesting Fact:
Whole grains have similar amounts and sometimes more disease fighting chemicals than many typical fruits and vegetables!
Whole grain intake can improve digestive health and help with weight management. Individuals who eat at least 3 servings of whole grains per day reduce their risk of:

    • Heart disease by 25-36%
    • Stroke by 37%
    • Type 2 diabetes by  21-27%
    • Cancer of digestive system  by 21-43% and hormone related cancer by 10-40%
    • Obesity

    Some Whole Grains Include:

    • Amaranth
    • Barley
    • Brown Rice
    • Buckwheat
    • Corn (& Popcorn)
    • Millet
    • Quinoa
    • Rye
    • Oats
    • Teff
    • Titricale
    • Wild Rice
    • Wheat including: Bulgur, Kamut, & Spelt

    • White Whole Grain Products are an Option!
      Some food manufacturers are using whole white wheat for whole grain breads. It’s a different type of wheat that has a lighter color with a milder taste, but still has similar nutrients as original “whole red wheat.”  

      For example, Pepperidge Farm makes “whole grain white” bread and hamburger buns. ConAgra Foods Inc. produces a line of foods made with Ultragrain® white whole-wheat flour. 

      School kids gave pizza made with Ultragrain® whole-wheat flour an “A+” for taste in a consumer taste test.

Is that a Whole Grain Product? Check the Ingredient List
First or second ingredient on the list should have the word “whole” or “whole grain” before the type of grain.  For example, whole wheat flour; whole oats; whole grain rye.

Tip: In addition to checking the ingredient list, check for a Whole Grain Council stamp, emblems or whole grain health claim on product package. (However, not all whole grain products will
have a whole grain stamp or health claim.)

Front Package Labels May be Deceptive
The front of a package may say, “multi-grain”, “7-grain”, “100% wheat”, “bran”, or “cracked wheat”, but may not contain any or only small amount of whole grains. These products may have “unbleached enriched wheat flour” as the first (main) ingredient, which is the same as refined flour.

An “all-bran” product is not whole grain because it only contains the bran portion of the whole grain kernel.

Tip:  Look for the words, “whole grain” on product package.  A multigrain product may be a whole grain food, just make sure by using all of the tips identified.

Don’t Trust Color or Fiber Content

While whole grains tend to be higher in fiber than refined grains, there are differences in the fiber content between each type of whole grain.  For example, whole wheat bread has 3-4 grams fiber per serving, while brown rice has only 0.5 grams fiber per serving.   A brown color does not mean a product contains a significant amount of whole grain.

Ideas to Add Whole Grains into School Meals

  • Introduce whole grains gradually by mixing half whole grain pancake flour mix with enriched refined flour
  • Choose whole grain cereals that kids enjoy like Cheerios
  • Use bagels or English muffins made with whole grain for an egg sandwich; offer whole grain white” toast
  • Use whole wheat angel hair pasta for spaghetti or tai dish; Use brown rice for stir fry
  • Offer whole grain pizza or add at least half 100% whole grain flour to pizza crusts 
  • Use whole grain tortillas for soft shell tacos and wraps or offer burritos made with whole grains
  • Use “whole grain white” hamburger buns for hamburgers or chicken patties; use “whole grain white” hotdog buns for turkey hot dogs
  • Offer popcorn, whole grain pretzels, or baked 100% corn chips for an after school snack

Updated Wednesday, May 30, 2018 at 09:29AM