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What Are Whole Grains?

by Ms. Qula Madkin, MSU Extension Service

Not all grains are created equal and figuring out the difference can be confusing.

Grains are divided into two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel, which is made up of three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm.

Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and the germ. The milling process can also remove fiber, iron, and other important nutrients from the grain.

According to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” half the total amount of grains consumed in a day should be whole grains. So, choose whole-grain products instead of products made with refined grains whenever possible.

Here are some helpful tips when choosing whole-grain products:

  • Don’t be fooled by color. Just because something is brown doesn’t make it whole wheat. Look for the official whole grain stamp. The 100% Whole Grain Stamp assures you that a food product contains a full serving of whole grain in each labeled serving and that ALL the included grain is whole grain.

  • Check the nutrition facts label. If you do not see the 100% Whole Grain Stamp, look at the ingredient list. If the product is whole grain, the first ingredient will have the word “whole” listed first, for example, whole-wheat flour or another whole grain.

Still not sure what whole grains are? Here is a list that may help you.

You may see these terms on some whole-grain products: whole-grain barley, whole-grain cornmeal, whole-grain sorghum, whole rye, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat cereal flakes, whole-wheat chapati, whole-wheat crackers, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat sandwich buns and rolls, and whole-wheat tortillas.

Some whole-grain food products may not have the words “whole” or “whole-grain” on the ingredient list. Instead, the product itself will be listed. These are some other products that are whole grain:

Amaranth Barley (not pearled)

Brown rice Buckwheat

Bulgur (cracked wheat) Dark rye

Kamut Millet

Muesli Oatmeal

Oats Popcorn

Quinoa Rolled oats

Sorghum Spelt

Teff Triticale

Wild rice

Try these suggestions to get more whole grains into your family's diet:

  • Choose fiber-rich, whole-grains, like oatmeal or whole-wheat toast for breakfast. Check the nutrition facts label for the amount of dietary fiber per serving. Remember: The more grams of fiber there are in a serving, the longer you’ll feel full. Try our steel cut oatmeal recipe featured in our Extension Publication 3566, “Electric Pressure Cooker Recipes.”

  • Experiment with different grains such as quinoa, whole rye buckwheat, bulgur, millet, sorghum, or barley. Many people find whole grains challenging to cook, so be sure to follow the package instructions. To save time, cook extra bulgur or barley and freeze half of it to heat and serve later as a quick side dish.

  • Choose whole grains over refined items when selecting breads, buns, bagels, tortillas, pastas, and other grains. There are many options available in most grocery stores.

  • Enjoy whole grains as a snack, like popcorn or whole wheat crackers.

For more helpful tips like these, visit and join our Nutrition and Wellness Facebook group.

For more nutrition information, tips, and recipes, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association, and U.S. Department of Agriculture My Plate websites.

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