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What Are Whole Grains? - Types, Sources & Examples

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Whole grains are those which have not been refined and retain their nutritious components. There are many health benefits to eating whole grains. Learn more about these grains and take a short quiz at the end.

Definition of Whole Grains

Did you grow up eating white bread? You may remember biting into your sandwich at lunch and the bread practically melting in your mouth. There was hardly even a reason to chew. Maybe you glanced over at the kid next to you who was munching away on his brown, grainy whole wheat sandwich and you were glad your parents weren't such health nuts.

Whole wheat is an example of a whole grain food. Whole grains are those which have not been refined, or had nutritional components removed. In the times of smooth and pasty Wonder Bread, chunky whole grains were fairly unpopular. However, we live in an age today that values the health benefits of whole grains. In this lesson, learn more about these foods and gain an understanding of how they can help you.

Whole Grain Bread
Whole grain bread

Parts of a Whole Grain

As previously mentioned, whole grains are those which have not been processed or refined to remove any parts of the grain. Whole wheat, for example, is exactly what its name states: it is the whole kernel of wheat. Let's take a closer look to see what this means.

A wheat kernel is composed of several main parts. The outer layer is called the bran layer. Have you ever eaten bran flakes in an attempt to increase your fiber intake? This is a smart choice, because that outer bran layer is rich in fiber. The large middle component of the grain is called the endosperm. This is the carbohydrate portion of the kernel, for you carb lovers.

Finally, there is a small inner nugget that is known as the germ. Maybe you have seen people sprinkling wheat germ over their cereal or into their pancake mix. It is within the wheat germ that rich nutrients are found. So wheat germ fanatics are actually making a very healthy choice!

And there you have it -- the anatomy of a whole grain. Now let's talk about what happens when grains are processed. Remember the fiber-rich bran and nutrient-packed germ in that grain? Simply take away those parts and you've got white flour! It is similar to when you pick out the vegetables from your salad and only eat the croutons. Removing the parts of the grain that are considered less palatable make the final product more tasty to some, but much less nutritious.

Types of Whole Grains

We live in a culture today that has a strong focus on healthy foods such as whole grains. Many cereal boxes today practically scream Whole Grain. And we're not just talking about our old favorite, whole wheat. Take oats, for example. This breakfast staple rarely has its bran and germ removed during processing, making it a consistently healthy choice. So keep eating your oatmeal, because the type of fiber in oats is known to lower cholesterol.

Corn is another example of a mainstay whole grain, as long as the label doesn't say ''degerminated.''So yes, keep munching on popcorn if you are looking for a whole grain snack.

Barley is another hearty old soul. A highly adaptable crop, it is a favorite in soups and has been around for decades.

Barley Grains
Barley Grains

Rye is a favorite among sandwich lovers and especially those partial to pumpernickel. A tasty grain that can grow in a wide variety of climates, rye tends to make one feel full more quickly, making it a good choice for those trying to lose weight. And where would the Reuben sandwich be without rye?

Do you think of rice as a grain? Because it is just that. As you probably guessed, white rice has the bran and germ removed, whereas other colors such as brown, black and even purple rice come with the whole grain intact.

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