Are You Eating Healthy Whole Grains?

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There are many different types of grains such as wheat, rice, oats, barley, corn, wild rice, rye, quinoa and buckwheat.  These grains can either be whole or refined.

What are whole grains?

Grains are the seeds, or kernel of plants. The seed, or kernel consists of three parts:

  1. The bran
  2. The endosperm
  3. The germ

Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel.  All parts contain important nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals that contribute to a healthy eating pattern. 

What are refined grains?

Refined grains are whole grains that have the germ and the bran removed. Examples of refined grains include white rice, white flour, grits and cream of wheat.  This removal results in a loss of important nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals.  Some refined grains are enriched, which means certain vitamins (for example, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin) and minerals (for example, iron) are added back that were removed during processing. Enriched refined grains still lack some nutrients that are found in whole grains.  Whole grain foods are a healthier choice than refined grains and Health Canada’s food guide recommends that Canadians eat whole grain foods.

How can you be sure you are eating actual whole grains?

Some foods may look like they are whole grain due to their colour, but they may not be. For example, if bread is brown, don’t assume it’s whole grain as the colour could be due to added ingredients like molasses.

The best way to know if you are eating whole grains is to read the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in descending order by amount, therefore choose grain products that have the words “whole grain” followed by the name of the grain as one of the first ingredients such as:

  • whole grain oats
  • whole grain wheat
  • whole grain rye
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Did you know that whole wheat bread and multi-grain foods may not be whole grain?

In Canada, whole wheat flour that is used to make whole wheat bread may have much of the germ removed when wheat is milled and therefore may not be considered whole grain.  Although whole wheat foods may not be considered whole grain, they can still be a healthy choice as they contain fibre not found in white bread.

Tip: When looking for breads or bread products check the ingredient list and look for “whole grain wheat”.  As well, compare the amount of fibre between products by using the nutrition facts table. Look at the % Daily Value to help choose foods with more fibre.

Foods labelled as “multi-grain” may not be whole grain either, as the food may be made with flours or grains that consist of little or no whole grains.  Again, best to check the ingredient list to find out if there are any whole grains.

Advice from Health Canada

Health Canada recognizes the importance whole grains play in a healthy eating pattern. The food guide provides practical tips on how you can include whole grain foods in your meals and snacks.

  • Choose whole grain foods with little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat.
  • Read the label on foods to find out if the first ingredients listed are whole grains.

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