A common choice one would make at their local sandwich or burger shop is whether they want white bread or wheat bread. In the past, many assumed the only difference between the two types of bread was the look, texture, and a slight difference in taste, where white bread always seemed a bit sweeter. Today, many recognize wheat bread as the healthier option, but they don't know the exact details. Are the extra health benefits of wheat bread worth sacrificing the soft, smooth texture and rich taste of white bread?
Wheat bread is made from whole wheat grains, or whole grains, which have been found to include a plethora of health benefits, more so than white bread made from refined grains. Here's some information that can help you decide the next time you have to make the choice between whole wheat grain products, like wheat bread, and refined grain products, like white bread.
So, what exactly is a whole grain? In the beginning, all grains are considered whole grains. However, once a grain has been processed and milled, it must retain all three parts of the original grain, which are endosperm, bran and germ, to be considered a whole grain. Refined grains, like the stuff white bread is made out of, are processed to remove the bran and germ from the original whole grain. Although refined grains are enriched with nutrients lost in the refining process, they don't offer the same health benefits as whole grains.
Whole grains are loaded with vitamins, minerals and nutrients. They also offer antioxidants and are high in fiber. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a daily diet that includes a regular intake of whole grains can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, while maintaining the health and proper function of the body. Here is an in-depth look at the health benefits of whole wheat grains:
- Fiber: Whole grains are rich in fiber, which can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Fiber can also help keep proper function of the digestive tract and lower cholesterol. When substituted for foods high in fat, whole wheat grains can help people maintain a healthy weight.
- Vitamins: The B vitamins found in whole grains help with the body's metabolism by breaking down fat, protein and carbohydrates for energy. B vitamins are also needed for a strong nervous system.
- Antioxidants: Whole grains contain more antioxidants than some fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce disease: Some studies have shown a correlation between regular whole grain intake and a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
- Iron: Iron is needed to carry oxygen in the blood, and those with an iron deficiency in their diet should seek out foods containing a significant amount of iron like whole grain foods.
- Magnesium: Whole grains contain magnesium, which is used for building bones and releasing the energy in muscles.
- Weight loss: Whole grains tend to be heartier and more filling than refined grains, and are great alternative to fattier foods.
Now that you know how great whole grains are, the next thing to do is identify where you can find whole grains in your food. According to the Whole Grains Council, the key word to look for when identifying a product as a whole grain product is "whole." Some products that have things like "wheat flour" or "multigrain" on the packaging may appear to be whole grain products, but the truth is, they are usually missing parts of the original grain and should not be considered whole grains. If the labels on the product say things like "whole wheat" or "whole grain," it is safe to assume it is a real, whole grain product, and you would be receiving the full health benefits of a whole grain food. A list of common, whole grain foods are:
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole wheat flour
- Brown rice
- Whole oats
The Bottom Line
The Dietary Guidelines suggest making half, or more, of your grains whole, which translates to eating three or more servings of whole grains per day. One serving of whole grains is approximately one ounce. This is just a suggested average, however, and active people should look to increase their daily intake of whole grains to four or five servings per day. To determine how much whole grains you should be eating in one day, think of a slice of 100 percent whole grain bread, 100 percent of whole grain cereal, or a half cup of 100 percent whole grain hot cereal as one serving. Fortunately, there are many ways to incorporate whole grains into your diet with more and more foods being produced with whole grains like crackers, cookies, chips, muffins and pancakes.