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What Is a Whole Grain?

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Published: August 04, 2021

Reviewed: June 13, 2023

Grains in Cups | What is a Whole Grain?
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Next time your kids want a snack, look to whole grains. They are not only nutritious, but also delicious!

Whole grains contain three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm (refined grains only contain the endosperm). Including whole grains as part of a healthy diet can help reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Barley, quinoa, oats, brown rice, whole-grain pastas, breads and cereals are just some of the whole-grain foods available. When reading food labels, look for the words "whole grain" in the ingredient list. Also, choose products high in dietary fiber with fewer added sugars.

Be a savvy consumer when buying whole grains — the words multi-grain, stone-ground, 100% wheat, cracked wheat, seven-grain and bran don't necessarily indicate a whole-grain food. Color also is not a reliable way to pick a whole-grain product. Sometimes molasses or other added ingredients give a food that nice brown color.

There are many tasty, kid-tested, whole-grain snack options. Half of a whole-grain pita pocket stuffed with ricotta cheese and Granny Smith apple slices with a dash of cinnamon is a great small bite. Or, for an on-the-go snack, combine ½ cup ready-to-eat whole-grain cereal, dried fruit and nuts.

Did you know that many schools serve whole-grain options? Guidelines that schools try to follow, include:

  • Offering whole grains with at least 8 grams or more per serving.
  • Buying products that include the FDA-approved whole-grain health claim on its packaging.
  • Making sure that product ingredient lists state whole grains first.

Try swapping out refined grains and white breads and pastas for whole-grain varieties. To gradually introduce whole grains to someone in your family, combine whole-grain foods and the refined grain foods they’re used to until their palate has adjusted to whole grains. Aim to make at least half of a day’s grains whole grains.

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