Grains Nutrition Facts

Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or any another cereal grain are grain products. Grain products include bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, muffins and other baked goods.

Nutrition experts often recommend that we eat plenty of grains as part of a healthy diet. But do you know how to select the best grains for weight loss and good health?

Types of Grains: Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

Grain products can be designated into two different types: whole grains and refined grains.

Brown rice and oatmeal are examples of whole grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel.

White rice and white bread are examples of refined grains. Refined grains are sometimes called refined carbs or refined carbohydrates. These grains have been processed. The refining process removes the bran and germ. The refinement process also gives these foods a finer texture and prolongs their shelf life.

Some eaters prefer the taste and texture of refined grains, but the refining process removes important nutrients such as B vitamins, fiber, and iron. That's why nutrition experts recommend that we limit our intake of refined foods or refined grains and swap them out for whole grains instead.

Sources of Whole Grains

Examples of whole grain food choices include:

  • brown rice
  • oatmeal
  • popcorn
  • whole wheat cereal
  • muesli
  • whole wheat bread
  • whole wheat crackers
  • whole wheat pasta
  • whole wheat tortillas
  • wild rice

Some examples of less common whole grains include:

  • amaranth
  • millet
  • quinoa
  • sorghum

Examples of refined foods to avoid or choose less often include:

  • crackers
  • corn and flour tortillas
  • grits
  • noodles
  • spaghetti
  • macaroni
  • pitas
  • corn flakes
  • white bread
  • white rice

These examples of grains may help you to make better choices when you grocery shop. You can print it out and keep it handy or bookmark the page on your smartphone. Simple changes to your bread and cereal choices can have a big impact on your diet, as the fiber and nutrients increase and add up.

Grain Nutrition and Health Benefits

Whole grains are far more nutritious and wholesome than refined grains. Whole grains supply more vitamin E, B, and folic acid than refined grains. And they provide important minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and iron.

But the health benefits of grains don't end there. Researchers have found connections between eating whole grains and other medical improvements including:

  • a reduced risk of certain cancers
  • lower blood pressure
  • decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • lower cholesterol
  • improved digestive health
  • a reduced risk of heart disease

Dieters especially benefit from whole grains because whole grain foods are higher in fiber.

Both soluble and insoluble fiber help your diet in different ways. But both types of fiber help you lose weight because fiber-rich foods help you to feel full longer throughout the day. Feeling full may help prevent overeating.

Most refined grains are enriched. When a food is enriched it means that nutrients that were originally found in the food have been returned to the product during processing. For example, an enriched white bread may have had B vitamins and iron added back into it during the manufacturing process.

Fiber, however, is not added back to enriched grains. For dieters, this may be a problem. If you don't get enough fiber in your diet, you may have a harder time losing weight.

Identifying Whole and Enriched Grains

So how do you know if your food is a whole grain or an enriched grain? To identify whole grain foods, look for words such as "whole grain," "whole wheat," "rye," or "whole oats" as the first ingredients. You may find these ingredients in foods that say "good source of fiber" on the front of the package.

And how do you identify refined or enriched grains? If a grain product does not include whole grains, then it is refined. But some refined grains are enriched and some are not. The USDA recommends that you check the ingredient list on refined grain product's packaging for the word "enriched." Refined grains that have not been enriched offer the least nutritional value of any grain and they tend to be higher in sugar and calories.

Recommended Servings of Grains Per Day

The number of grain foods you should eat every day depends on your age, gender and activity level, according to the USDA. These are the organization's recommendations for grain consumption for adult men and women who maintain a moderate physical activity level.

  • Women 19-50 years old: six ounce equivalents
  • Women 51 years of age and older: five ounce equivalents
  • Men 19-30 years old: eight ounce equivalents
  • Men 31-50 years old: seven ounce equivalents
  • Men 51 years of age and older: six ounce equivalents

A slice of bread, one cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or a half cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal can be considered as an ounce-equivalent.

The USDA recommend that at least half of all grains consumed should be whole grains.

Incorporating Whole Grains into Your Diet

Whole grain foods can be included in any meal or snack. Once you get the hang of it, it's easy to eat whole grains every day. Consider any of these simple ways to incorporate grains into your daily diet.

  • Have a single serving of oatmeal with your coffee in the morning
  • Choose a breakfast cereal made from whole grains
  • Enjoy whole grain crackers with cheese for a quick snack in the afternoon
  • Choose whole grain bread instead of white bread with your sandwich at lunchtime
  • Have brown rice instead of white rice with dinner
  • Enjoy plain popcorn as a snack in the evening

Sources:

Harvard School of Public Health. Whole grains. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/whole-grains/ 

Jones J, Engleson J. Whole grains: Benefits and challenges. Annual review of food science and technology. 2010;1:19–40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22129328. 

Jonnalagadda SS, Harnack L., et al Putting the whole grain puzzle together: Health benefits associated with whole Grains—Summary of American society for nutrition 2010 satellite symposium123. The Journal of Nutrition. 2011;141(5). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3078018/. 

USDA. ChooseMyPlate.Gov. Grains: Nutrients and Health Benefits. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/grains-nutrients-health

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