Whole Grain: Refined, Enriched... What's the Difference?

Grains Deciphered. Whole Grain, Refined, Enriched…What’s the Difference?

The differences among grains extend beyond far beyond their colors. Whole grain products have more fiber and nutrients than their refined counterparts and many health benefits. Whether we’re talking about noodles, breads, tortillas, or crackers, the difference boils down to what type of wheat is used in the product.

What is Whole Grain?

The most recent dietary guidelines recommend that whole grains should be half of your grain servings every day. Whole grains contain all portions of the grain’s kernel: the germ, bran, and endosperm. Some great sources of whole grains are whole-wheat flour, buckwheat, barley, corn, oats, quinoa, and brown and wild rice.

Refined and Enriched Grains

Refined grains have undergone a refining process that removes the germ and bran, which gives it a smoother texture. Some common refined grains include white flour, white rice, and de-germed flours.

Enriched grains are refined grains that have been fortified with additional nutrients. Although many of the vitamins lost in the refining process can be added, the lost fiber is not replaced. Most refined grains are also enriched.

So, how can you tell what types of grains you’re buying? Here’s what to look for:

  1. Check for the whole-grain stamp. The Whole Grain Council has a stamp that signifies that a product either has 100 percent whole grain or at least half a serving of whole grains.
  2. Look at your labels. Fiber doesn’t tell the whole story, but try to buy bread with three or more grams of fiber per serving. Words like fiber, stoneground, cracked wheat, multigrain, and whole grain don’t always signify that a product is 100 percent whole grain. Enriched flour, bran, and wheat germ are never 100 percent whole grain. Remember: Marketers are always going to throw out buzzwords to increase sales.
  3. Read the ingredients list. Are the flours included designated as 100 percent whole grains? What are the first few ingredients? Does sugar follow the whole-wheat flour on the list of ingredients? Choose a product in which all the grains listed are whole grains, which doesn’t include a lot of added sugar. Remember, the ingredient list is ordered by weight, so ingredients that show up in the beginning are contained more heavily in the product.

Whole grain foods are simply the healthier choice when you plan your meals.

Unfortunately, marketers hone in on certain ingredients or use buzzwords to make their products sound healthier and more alluring at our expense. Watch out for these traps when you’re shopping and read your food labels to ensure you’re getting what you think you are.