The seeds of certain plants such as wheat, corn and rice that are used for food are called grains. There is much confusion about what constitutes a whole grain, the benefits of whole grains and what foods routinely contain whole grains.
To better understand what constitutes a grain it is important to understand the anatomy of a grain.
A single grain kernel has a multi-layered, outer, edible coat or skin called the bran. The bran contains a variety of B-vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.
Inside the kernel of grain is a small ‘embryo’ which has the potential to grow into a new plant. The germ contains B-vitamins, some protein, minerals and health fats.
The majority of the space inside a kernel of grain is made up of endosperm. It is the largest portion of the kernel and is rich in starchy carbohydrates, contains some protein and small amounts of vitamins and minerals. The germ feeds off of the endosperm which can provide necessary energy should the seed sprout and grow roots.
According to the Whole Grain Council a whole grain contains “all the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions.” That is, a whole grain contains all of the bran, germ and endosperm.
If the grain has undergone any kind of processing such as cracking, crushing, rolling, extrusion or has been cooked the food “should deliver the same rich balance of nutrients found in the original grain seed” to be considered a whole grain.
Corn is an example of a whole grain as well as oats, wild rice, brown rice, barley, millet, quinoa, amaranth, wheat berries and others.
Whole grain stamp
Knowing when a food product contains whole grains can be tricky. Claims like natural grains, multi grain and more flood food packages. There is a quick way to ensure that the product you are buying is made from whole grains, and that is by locating the whole grain stamp on the product packaging.
Whole grain stamps are yellow and have the shape of a postal stamp. There are two types of stamp: the basic and the 100% whole grain stamp.
If a product has at least eight grams of whole grain (half a serving) it can list the basic stamp on the package and list how many grams of whole grains it has. Even if a product has a large amount of whole grain, it will use the basic stamp if it also contains refined flour, extra bran or germ. If all of the grain ingredients of a food is whole grain, AND it has the minimum requirement of 16 grams of whole grains per serving (a full serving), then it will use the 100% stamp.
The stamps on the packaged food are an easy way to ensure that you are choosing a food with whole grains. You can of course always read the ingredient labels to make sure that they list whole grains such as whole wheat.