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Whole Grains

Whole grains are an important part of your diet as they contain many nutrients including carbohydrates, protein, fiber, B-vitamins, antioxidants, vitamin E, and minerals. Studies show that eating whole grains protects against many chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Although consuming at least three servings of whole grains daily is shown to be most beneficial, the average American generally eats less than one serving of whole grains each day. Nearly one-third of Americans never eat whole grains at all.

What are Whole Grains?

Whole grains are just that—whole. Nothing has been added or taken away via processing. They contain the entire grain kernel which consists of three main parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm.

  • Bran: The tough, multi-layered outer skin of the kernel that protects the endosperm and germ. It contains important antioxidants, B-vitamins, and fiber.
  • Germ: The embryo that will sprout into a new plant if fertilized by pollen. It contains B-vitamins, some proteins, minerals, and healthy fats.
  • Endosperm: The nutritive tissue which is the germ’s food supply. It is the largest portion of the kernel and contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Common types of whole grains include barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, rice, rye, oats and wheat.

Benefits of Whole Grains

In addition to protection against disease, studies have shown that people who regularly eat whole grains tend to have lower cholesterol levels and are less prone to obesity. According to the Whole Grains Council (WGC), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group which works to increase consumption of whole grains for better health, the benefits of eating whole grains include:

  • Reduced stroke risk by 30-36%
  • Reduced type-2 diabetes risk by 21-30%
  • Reduced heart disease risk by 25-28%
  • Healthier weight maintenance
  • Reduced risk of asthma
  • Healthier carotid arteries
  • Reduced inflammatory disease risk
  • Reduced risk of colorectal cancer
  • Healthier blood pressure levels
  • Reduced gum disease and tooth loss

How Much is Enough?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the amount of grains that you need to eat depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in conjunction with the USDA, released a report titled “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005,” which recommends that at least three ounce-equivalents of your daily grain consumption should come from a whole grain source.

Is it Whole Grain?

To verify that a product is whole grain, you need to look beyond a product’s name, color and texture. Descriptive words in a product’s name, such as “stone-ground,” “multi-grain,” “100% wheat,” or “all bran,” do not definitively indicate that a product is whole grain. Look at the statement of ingredients for a list of specific grains. The phrase “whole grain” or “whole” should appear before the name of the grain, as in “whole wheat flour,” “whole oats,” or “whole grain corn.”

In January, 2005, a “whole grain” stamp was introduced by the WGC as a way to identify products that are good sources of whole grains. The stamp features a sheaf of grain on a golden background. Each stamp displays the number of grams of whole grains that the product contains per serving. All foods bearing the whole grain stamp offer at least one-half serving (8 grams) or more of whole grains. Foods in which all the grains are whole and in which there is no refined grain, list “100%” on the stamp. Manufacturers are not required to include the whole grain stamp, but more and more choose to do so because of the recognized health benefits of whole grains.

Get Enough Whole Grains in Your Diet

Many foods that are made with whole grains are ready to eat without any preparation. These include a variety of breads, pasta products and cereals. You can also add more grains to your meals and snacks using these ideas from the WGC:

  • In recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads, and pancakes, substitute half of the white flour with whole wheat flour. Or, be bold and add up to 20% of another whole grain flour such as sorghum.
  • Replace one-third of the flour in a recipe with quick oats or old-fashioned oats.
  • Add one-half cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice, or barley to bread stuffing.
  • Add one-half cup of cooked wheat or rye berries, wild rice, brown rice, sorghum or barley to your favorite canned or home-made soup.
  • Use whole corn meal for corn cakes, corn breads and corn muffins.
  • Add three-fourths of a cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey when you make meatballs, burgers or meatloaf.
  • Stir a handful of oats in your yogurt, for a quick crunch.
  • Enjoy whole grain salads such as tabbouleh.

Follow these tips to help ensure that you’re getting enough whole grains each day. Whole grains are an essential part of a healthy diet!

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The information is not intended to constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for consultation with a physician or other health care provider. Individuals with specific complaints should seek immediate consultation from their personal physicians.

Whole Grains is an EHE International publication and is reprinted and distributed with its expressed written permission. EHE International, 10 Rockefeller Plaza, 4th Floor, New York, New York 10020; 212.332.3738;

Since 1913, EHE has been the recognized leader in employee and individual Preventive Healthcare Plans (PHP) specifically designed for the early identification of preventable disease and risk factors; clinical management of health findings; referral resources; and personal coaching intervention programs of adverse lifestyle behaviors associated with poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and smoking. It’s nationally available PHP is a comprehensive, integrated approach to preventive healthcare for the reduction and management of future medical claims expense. For more information, contact EHE International.