Top 4 Reasons Your Grain Choices Are Harming You

There is a lot of buzz about what type of grains you should be eating or if you should even be consuming any at all. You’ve probably been told (too many times to count) to eat whole grains. But, more often than not, I find that what people think are whole grains actually are not. There can be a lot of confusion in this area since there are so many labels out there with the word “grain” on them. You likely mistake multi-grain or seven-grain for whole grain, though there is a noteworthy difference.

Whole grains contain 100% of the contents included in the original seed, or kernel, from which they derive. The entire whole grain kernel consists of the bran, endosperm and germ. These three elements must be present in order to qualify as whole grain.

The bran is the hard, outer layer of the cereal grain that contains nutrients, fiber, and essential fatty acids. Over time, the essential fatty acids present in the bran can go rancid and cause the grain to go bad. Removal of the bran, therefore, results in a longer shelf life. The endosperm is the starchy component of the grain. Endosperm contains protein, carbohydrates and oil. Gluten is a protein found in the endosperm that provides elasticity and a chewy texture to most bread products. Germ is the reproductive center of the grain. Germ contains fiber and several nutrients.

Refined grains are those in which the whole grain is refined, or processed to remove parts of the grain. Bran and germ are the parts that are typically removed from refined grains leaving only the endosperm. Refined grains are not considered as nutritious as whole grains because with the removal of the bran and the germ, the grain also loses fiber and several other nutrients.

If your meal choices predominantly include refined grains over whole grains, then you are probably experiencing a whole host of undesirable symptoms that range from moodiness and decreased energy levels to weight gain.

Let’s take a deeper look into the 4 reasons why your grain choices are harming you and how to mitigate these effects by switching to whole grains.

1) Your blood sugar spikes, then you crash: Refined grains are digested more quickly than whole grains. The quick digestive process turns these refined grains into simple sugars that cause your blood sugar to spike, and then quickly crash. Dramatic blood sugar swings suck your energy from you leaving you feeling tired and moody. Switching to whole grains can help you avoid the swings, energy drains and moodiness. The fiber contained in whole grains helps to slow the absorption of sugars, thereby providing prolonged energy.

2) You have major digestive problems: Constipation is most common for those who consume mostly refined grains. This is due to the lack of fiber content in refined grains. To avoid constipation and keep your digestive tract regular, switch to whole grains which retain the fiber component of the kernel. Fiber acts as a natural laxative by increasing stool bulk which promotes the movement of stool more readily through your colon.

3) You are gaining weight: Due to the lack of fiber, refined grains lack the “filling factor”. Filling factor refers to how full you feel during or after meals. Since refined grains lack important factor, you may find yourself consuming more than you should. The fiber in whole grains keeps you feeling fuller longer thereby decreasing the amount you eat which will help you lose weight if you are overweight.

4) Your triglyceride levels are rising: Increased amounts of refined grains in your diet cause a rapid spike in insulin, which can cause triglyceride levels to shoot up. High levels of triglycerides in your blood can contribute to cardiovascular disease, as well as inflammation that can worsen arthritis. Switching to whole grains will keep your triglycerides in check and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and inflammation.

As you can see, whole grains have many health benefits. Need some more convincing? Whole grains also help to reduce blood cholesterol, heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, switching from refined grains to whole grains will promote positive improvements to your health.

So, what are some types of whole grains that you can begin to explore: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, sorghum, teff, triticale, wild rice and wheat. Wheat comes in several varieties including, spelt, emmer, faro, einkorn, kamut, durum, bulgur, cracked wheat and wheat berries. Try incorporating these into your meals and you’ll soon reap the positive benefits.

Bonnie R. Giller helps chronic dieters and people with medical conditions like diabetes take back control so they can get the healthy body and life they want. She does this by creating a tailored solution that combines three essential ingredients: a healthy mindset, nutrition education and caring support. The result is they lose weight and keep it off without dieting and live a healthy life symptom free.

Bonnie is a registered dietitian, certified dietitian-nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. She offers programs for the chronic dieter to achieve long lasting weight loss, for people with diabetes to attain blood sugar control and prevent diabetes complications, and for those suffering with irritable bowel syndrome to identify their food triggers so they can enjoy a symptom free life. Bonnie also treats a variety of other medical conditions, and offers a nutrition program teaching young children how to make healthy food choices.

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Multi-Grain, Whole Grain, and Organic Grains – What These Food Label Terms Mean

In a previous article series, I discussed a number of tips to help you understand the complexities and misleading information found on food labels. Unfortunately there is a lot more to understand about food label terminology than what I was able to cover in my previous writings, so today I will cover some additional food label terms that are commonly misunderstood. The terms covered in this article are multi-grain, whole grain, and organic and I chose to cover them together, because they are related and all three can even be used on the same product.

Multi-grain and whole grain are obviously terms used with grains (wheat, corn, rye, etc.), so they are often found on packages of high carbohydrate foods, such as breads, cereals, flour, pasta, etc. Organic is a term that can be used with grains, but it is also used many other types of foods, such as vegetables, meat, dairy products, and fruit. However, for this article I am really just focusing on the term organic as it relates specifically to grains.

Organic Grains – When a raw grain is labeled organic, it means it has been grown and transported without the use of artificial pesticides, chemicals, and other additives, however, natural pesticides may still be used on occasion. Both the grain and the land it is grown on must be considered organic for the ingredient to be certified organic. As a side note, when dealing with foods like meat, there are also requirements for additives, such as hormones, which do not apply for grains.

Raw organic grains are more natural and healthier than their non-organic counterparts, but when it comes to foods labeled as organic, there is some room for manufacturers to add in non-organic ingredients. When every ingredient in a product is certified organic (excluding water and salt), the package can contain the words “100 percent organic.” If non-organic ingredients are included, other terminology must be used. As long as long as 95% of the ingredients are organic, then the product can still be labeled as organic, just not 100 percent organic.

However, that still leaves 5% of the product that can be made up of ingredients that are non-organic and potentially unwanted and unhealthy. Products that do not reach the 95% organic ingredients requirement can instead be labeled with the phrase “made with organic ingredients,” if at least 70% of the ingredients are organic. These labeling standards are important, because it means organic products can still have added ingredients you don’t want to consume, so you should always read the label to know what you are getting.

Whole Grains – A food is considered a whole grain when all parts of the grain are included in a product and they are kept in the same proportions as they exist in nature. A grain has 3 different parts: the endosperm, bran, and germ and if any one is missing or the proportions are wrong, then the ingredient cannot be labeled as a whole grain. Refined products typically only contain the endosperm and are usually missing the bran and germ, which are healthy sources fiber and other nutrients.

Many refined ingredients will often be “enriched,” which sounds better than it actually is. Nutrients are are removed from the grain during the refining process, but some nutrients can be added back later, which then makes the product enriched. Unfortunately, enriched products generally have more nutrients removed then they have added during the enriching process, so the net result is an inferior product. Also, the added nutrients may be of poorer quality than the ones that were removed in the first place.

Multi-Grain – This term is fairly self-explanatory, but people often think it means more than it actually does. When a product has multi-grain on the label it simply means that more than one type of grain is included in the ingredients. People often assume the grains are whole grains, but multi-grain only refers to the number of grains and it does not have any bearing on the quality of the grains in the product.

If a product is made with white flour and white rice flour, both of which are refined, it is still a multi-grain product because it has two different types of grains. Whole grain and organic products can also be multi-grain of they have multiple whole grains or organic grains, but much of the time these products do not even have the multi-grain label, because it is not as important as the labels of whole grain or organic.

For instance, the Kashi brand has the tagline “The Seven Whole Grain Company” and they have a trademarked combination of whole grain ingredients including wheat, rice, oats, triticale, barley, rye, and buckwheat. These are all whole grains, so any product with these ingredients is by definition multi-grain, but multi-grain is not printed anywhere on the product, because it is essentially a meaningless term.

Companies often use the term multi-grain on products to make them sound healthier than they are, especially when the product contains poor quality refined grains. If a company has the choice between listing a product as organic, whole grain, or multi-grain, they will almost always make the terms organic and whole grain the priority. Multi-grain is often used when neither of the other terms applies to the product.

To sum things up, grain products that are labeled 100% organic or organic have few if any added or unwanted ingredients or byproducts from things like pesticides. On the other hand, just because a product is organic it does not guarantee the product is healthy, because ingredients like white flour, which is unhealthy, can still be organic if it was processed using organic methods. However, most organic grain based products are rather healthy.

Whole grain products are also usually healthy and they contain all 3 parts of the grain, which means they should have all the nutrients found in the natural product. Products with whole grains can still have unwanted added ingredients, especially in packaged products such as breads and cereals, but the grains themselves are healthier than the refined grains found in other products.

Products with the multi-grain label only claim to have more than one type of grain included in the product and nothing more. For me, the multi-grain label acts as a warning sign and causes me take a closer look at the rest of the label, especially the ingredients list. That way I can see if the product has quality grains or if it simply has multiple inferior ingredients, which is unfortunately often the case.

If you buy a lot of packaged products and want to find the grain products with the highest quality, it is best to look for products that are both organic and made with whole grains. These products are naturally the most expensive, especially when it comes to packaged products, so if you want to save some money, the best combination of health and value can be found when buying whole grain products with minimal unhealthy added ingredients.

On the other hand, if you don’t mind cooking with raw whole grains, you can get some great deals even when they are organic. The bulk organic whole grains sold at many stores, such as brown rice, oats, wheat, etc. are often less expensive than packaged products containing inferior quality grains. The trade off is they do take some extra preparation time, but if you don’t mind cooking, they are often a very healthy and economical way to go.

Ross Harrison, CSCS, NSCA-CPT is a certified personal trainer, strength and conditioning specialist, nutritional consultant, and has a BA in psychology from Grinnell College. He takes a holistic approach to health and fitness and teaches people how to lose weight, get in shape, and improve their quality of life with exercise and nutrition. If you want to find out more about his services or contact him for any reason, please visit

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