The Importance of Whole Grains

What is a whole grain?

Diagram of whole grain brown rice.

All grains start life as whole grain. In their natural state growing in the fields, a whole grain is the entire seed of the plant (also called the kernel), consisting of three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

  • Whole grains, or foods made from whole grains, contain the entire grain kernel, all three of its parts.
  • Refined grains consist only of the endosperm. The bran and germ of refined grains are removed in milling and processing.

A whole grain is, quite simply, whole.

How do I know if it’s whole grain?

Brown rice
  • For many whole grains, the word "whole" is listed before the type of grain, like "whole-wheat flour" or "whole-grain barley."
  • Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Look for products that list whole grains first!
  • Rolled oats, oatmeal, wild rice and some of our favorites, brown rice and brown rice flour, are always whole grain. So if you are looking for whole grains, look for brown rice.
  • More and more products are using Whole Grains Stamps. Click here for a list of all qualifying products approved by the Whole Grains Council.

The Whole Grains Council and the Whole Grain Stamp

The "Look for Whole Grain" stamp from the Whole Grains Council

The Whole Grains Council is an invaluable resource for consumers. You might say the Whole Grains Council has a "whole-istic" approach to helping people boost their whole grains knowledge and intake:

  • The Whole Grains Council helps manufacturers create whole grain products that taste as good as they are for you!
  • The Council helps the media write accurate stories about whole grains.
  • By helping the media, the Whole Grains Council helps consumers better understand the benefits of a whole grain diet.
  • The Whole Grains Council introduced the Whole Grain Stamp to help consumers choose whole grains at the grocery store.

The Whole Grain Stamp can be found anywhere on a product’s package and comes in one of two forms:

  • The 100% Whole Grain stamp means that all of a product’s grain ingredients are whole grains. In order to bear the stamp the product must also provide at least one full serving of whole grains.
  • The Basic Stamp means the product contains a large amount of whole grains, but may also contain refined grains. The product must also contain at least half a serving of whole grains.

Both stamps also include a number that tells consumers how many grams of whole grain ingredients are included in a serving of the product.

Companies must be members of the Whole Grains Council, file information about their products with the Council and agree to abide by all rules and guidelines of the Stamp program in order to display the Whole Grain Stamp. So you can trust the Stamp and what it represents.

To learn more about the Whole Grains Council, click here.

How do I eat whole grains?

Brown rice in a white dish

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends all adults eat at least half their grains as whole grains – that’s at least three to five servings of whole grains per day. Children are recommended to eat at least two to three servings of whole grains per day.

In general, the following count as a serving:

  • 1 slice whole grain bread
  • 1 cup whole grain cereal
  • ½ cup cooked brown rice
  • ½ cup cooked whole grain pasta

The Whole Grains Council offers an easy way to remember your whole grains: “Whole Grains at Every Meal.” Eat whole grains with breakfast, lunch and dinner and there you go… three servings!

Here are some ideas for how to eat “Whole Grains at Every Meal”

  • Breakfast: 1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, 1 slice 100% whole grain bread, 100% whole grain muffin, 1 cup 100% whole grain cereal
  • Lunch: PB&J on whole grain bread, granola bars (just check to make sure whole grain oats are the first ingredient), whole grain bagels, whole grain pita pockets
  • Snacks: popcorn (yup, it’s whole grain!), whole grain pretzels, rice cakes made from brown rice, rice chips made from brown rice
  • Dinner: 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, 1/2 cup cooked 100% whole grain pasta, 1 ounce uncooked whole grain pasta or brown rice, whole grain dinner rolls

To learn more about eating whole grains, click here to visit the USDA's My Plate website.

Why eat whole grains?

A field or rice

Whole grains are healthier to eat than refined grains because they supply your body with more protein, more fiber, vitamins and minerals. Removing any part of the whole grain through refining depletes the grain’s nutrients. Without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, along with at least 17 key nutrients.

  • Fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. It also gives you a full feeling with fewer calories.
  • B Vitamins found in whole grain foods benefit your metabolism by helping to release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates. It is also essential for a healthy nervous system.
  • Antioxidants are abundant in whole grain foods and help the body fight diseases.

Also, studies have shown that people who consume at least three servings of whole grains per day have a lower risk for certain cancers, coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality.

To learn more about the health benefits of whole grains, visit the following pages:

Health Benefits and Nutrients of Whole Grains, USDA's My Plate

Health Studies on Whole Grains, Whole Grains Council

Whole Grains Fact Sheet, International Food Information Council

Why eat brown rice?

Lots of brown rice

When you eat brown rice you can be certain it is whole grain.

  • In processing brown rice, only the husk of the grain is removed. The grain retains lots of nutrients, including rice bran oil, which may help lower LDL cholesterol.

Brown rice is a gluten-free alternative to many sources of whole grains.

To learn more about the health benefits of eating brown rice specifically, click here.