The Whole Truth About Whole Grains

Mary Hartley, RD, MPH, is the director of nutrition for Calorie Count, providing domain expertise on issues related to nutrition, weight loss and health. She creates original content for weekly blogs and newsletters, for the Calorie Count library, and for her popular daily Question-and-Answer section, Ask Mary. Ms. Hartley also furnishes direction for the site features and for product development.

Whole grains are a complete package. They’re tasty, nutritious, filling, and versatile. Yet, 93% of us don’t meet the three ounces a day requirement. In fact, the average American only eats about one ounce.

Whole grain is the seed of plants in the grass family – such as rice, corn, oats, barley, rye, and amaranth. The seed, called a kernel, has three layers: bran, the tough outer layer; endosperm, the starchy inner layer; and germ, the kernel’s reproductive machinery deep inside the endosperm.

Each layer has a unique nutritional value. The bran is rich in fiber; the endosperm is energy from starch; and the germ is flush with vitamins, minerals, and unsaturated oils. The fibers in the bran and endosperm work to cleanse the GI tract and to promote fullness and the slow release of blood sugar over time.

Whole grains are milled to make flour for baking. Milling strips the bran and germ off the kernel and pulverizes the endosperm into flour. The difference between whole grain and refined flour is that the bran and germ are added back to whole grain flours, along with their 22 vitamins and minerals, hundreds of phytochemicals, plus fiber and healthy fat. ‘Refined flour’ on the other hand, contains only the endosperm; the bran and germ and their nutrients are tossed away. In the US, most refined flour products are fortified with B-vitamins and iron by law to make up for a fraction of the losses.

To eat more whole grains, start with breakfast. Look for cereals that list the word “whole” in the first ingredient. Examples include oatmeal and grits, Wheaties, Cheerios and Shredded Wheat, as well as cereals made with less familiar grains like Kamut, kasha (another name for buckwheat) and spelt. Look for the Whole Grains Council stamp found on hundreds of popular products to identify a whole grain packaged food.

For lunch, try mixing fresh veggies with whole grain pasta for a refreshing salad. Brown rice, quinoa and select breads are also great whole grain choices. At other meals, try serving whole grains as a side dish or cooked into soups, salads and ethnic dishes. Craving a midnight snack? Try popcorn – another delicious, and often forgot-about, whole grain.

Here are three classic whole grain recipes from the Recipe Browser at to add to you repertoire:


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