What is Whole Grain Anyway?

nutrition Jan 23, 2017

The difference between the two seems pretty subtle, and it absolutely is. What’s happening is that you are being tricked into eating foods that you think are way healthier for you than they actually are. The key word is whole grain, there’s no “s” on the end of it. “Whole grain” will appear on some of the labels of the food products that you eat. What you want to think about is what you are really eating. If you are buying a product and it has a label on it, then it’s probably not a whole grain.

Within a grain, there are a few key structures. The outer layer or bran contains the fiber, B vitamins, and trace minerals. Inside the grain are two components, the smaller part is the germ.  It’s a tiny little core that contains antioxidants, B and E vitamins, and good fats. The endosperm is the other inside part that’s mostly made up of carbohydrates and proteins. That’s what most food products are made of.

When we look at flour, for example, it typically would be just made of the endosperm part of the grain- just the carbohydrates and protein.  In whole grain flour, producers mix the bran back into the flour. The difference between that and a “whole grain,” is that the proportion of bran that typically gets put back into flour is not likely the same ratio as eating a true whole grain.

The other thing to consider is that flour is pretty light, fluffy and broken up.  If you were to sit down and eat whole grains, such as wild rice- since it’s much denser and you’d only be able to eat a certain amount at one time.  When you’re looking at whole grains (eg. rice), compared to whole grain flour, the amount of carbohydrate you’ll be able to eat is much different.

With flour, it’s easier to eat a higher amount of carbohydrate so your blood sugars will most likely go up higher. The other part with eating flour products is that the grain is already broken down really fine so it gets into your digestive system really fast. What that does is drive up your blood sugars even more.

Looking at how whole grains get into your belly, it’s much different. Some people do just put them in their mouths and swallow, but the proper way to eat them is to chew them really well.  Grains are really hard and need to be macerated, or broken down with your teeth.  When you do that, saliva is mixed into the food, with enzymes to break down carbohydrates. This takes longer for the food to be absorbed in your digestive tract, having a much smaller impact on your blood sugars.

When you are eating foods made with processed flours, they typically don’t require the same amount of chewing, because they are more broken down. This misses the initial step of digestion, that is really important to breaking down food properly to help absorb more nutrients.

If you are still confused and wonder if you should eat whole grain (flour) or whole grains (rice, quinoa etc), always try to choose foods that are whole grains (rice, quinoa). They are REAL FOOD, that you physically have to chew to break down. They have more nutritional value and slow down your blood sugar response, which will help you if you are trying to lose weight, balance blood sugars or decrease inflammation in your body.

Happy eating 🙂

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