Grains, being one of your main sources of carbohydrates, have gotten a bad wrap over recent years with the emergence of low carb diets such as Atkins, South Beach and the Zone. The reality is that grains are also full of nutrients including magnesium, zinc, iron, B vitamins, vitamin E, folic acid and protein. Furthermore, carbohydrates are your body and brain's preferred source of energy and are needed to properly fuel your cells and organ systems, daily activity and exercise.
Not all grains are created equal. Whole grains are more nutritionally dense than refined grains. They are typically higher in in fibre, protein and have a lower glycemic index, meaning that they elicit a slower and more moderate rise and drop in blood sugar. They also tend to keep you full and energized for longer and have been associated with a decreased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Whole grains are considered "whole" because they are unprocessed/uncut or during processing they have retained most of the bran, germ, and endosperm of the kernel. Refined grains have been processed and stripped of both the bran and germ, leaving them lower in nutritional value. Many refined grains have had nutrients added back into them that were lost during processing and are considered "enriched". Nonetheless, whole grains are far superior and should take priority in your diet. Read food labels and look for "100% whole grain" products (not just made with whole grains) with "whole grain" listed as the first ingredient. Remember to choose intact grains most of the time including: oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, and bulgur.
Curious how much whole grains you should be getting? Click here to use our Get Enough tool.