The Great Grains Debate: Whole, Refined, Enriched – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Written by: Jill Smart

You hear so much these days about the fact that you should add grains into your diet, but then on the other hand, you also hear that they are not good for you and should be taken out. Then of course is the mystery in understanding which grains are okay to eat and which ones to avoid. It’s down-right confusing! Whole, refined, enriched… are they all the same?

Let’s clear the confusion…

Whole Grains

wholegrainsThe simple fact about whole grains is that they are exactly that – the grain seed, the whole seed.

The grain seed is actually part of the grass family, which is rich in fiber, minerals, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, phytochemicals and proteins. The grain seed is a good source of complex carbohydrates, which are the “good” carbohydrates that are composed of at least three single sugar molecules. They include starches, maltose and cellulose. The body breaks these sugars down quickly. However, also present is cellulose, which is the fiber portion of complex carbohydrates keeping the body from absorbing these too quickly, which helps keep blood sugar levels in check.

Whole grains, the healthiest kind of grains, are naturally low in fat and linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.  These grains, which have not had the bran and germ removed through the milling process, prove to be better sources of fiber, selenium, potassium and magnesium. Popular choices include: brown rice, buckwheat, whole wheat, cornmeal, quinoa and oatmeal.

Refined Grains

fotolia_8250815_XSWhen it comes to the facts about refined grains, the thing to remember is that they have been milled, which means that the bran and the germ have been stripped out to give them a finer texture. This process removes nutrients like fiber, iron and minerals.  The main reason for this is to extend the shelf life of the grain for consumers.

You may see that refined grains have been enriched… this simply means that they have been fortified artificially with some of the nutrients that were removed, including folic acid, a B vitamin. Common refined grains include white flour, white rice, white bread and degermed corn flour. All of these have B vitamins, but are lacking the high amounts of fiber, zinc and copper, which their whole grain counterparts have naturally.

As you plan your weekly meals you should plan for at least half the grains in your diet to be whole grains. Whole grain versions of rice, cereal, flour and even bread can be found at your local grocery store. Remember to be diligent about reading labels as items like bread can be deceiving when you look at their coloring. Just because a bread is brown does not mean that it is whole grain, so check those labels.

Also, be aware that if you only eat whole grains, you will need to supplement your diet with folic acid (folate is the purest form) unless you buy whole grains that are enriched. Again, read those labels to educate yourself on what you are putting into your body.

Enriched Grains

Nutrition-whole-grain-breadWhile processing enriched grains, virtually all the B vitamins are removed, plus many of the minerals, along with the fiber and good fat, leaving a starchy, highly refined product with very little nutritional value. Food manufacturers are, however, required to replace these B vitamins. The replacement of these vitamins is a cheaper form, often unrecognizable by the body and therefore, not processed the same as the initial vitamin present in the whole grain. This can cause major problems! When reading food labels, the B vitamins will be listed for enriched foods, however, the case is not the same for whole foods because they haven’t been added – they are already there naturally in a form that the body can process!

Healthy, whole foods do not require a health claim and do not need long lists of nutrients because they are coming from a REAL source – nature!  The best way to feed your body and know that you are getting the proper nutrients in their natural, easy-to-assimilate form is to focus on eating more real, whole foods!

Here are a few ways to get more whole grains into your diet:

  • Include oatmeal in your breakfast menu (this should be the slow cooking   whole or steel cut oats)
  • Replace white rice with quinoa, brown rice, wild rice or bulgur.
  • Add wild rice or barley to soups, stews, casseroles and salads.
  • Add whole grains, like cooked brown rice or whole-grain bread crumbs, to ground meat or poultry for extra body.

Overnight Breakfast Grains
Recipe type: Breakfast
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • ½ cup quinoa (rinsed)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 4 ½ cups water
  • Desired toppings (raw honey, berries, unsweetened coconut, cacao nibs etc)
  1. Night before: Bring water, quinoa, oats, salt and cinnamon to a boil in a pot.
  2. Simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from stove, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Next morning: Reheat the oatmeal mixture on the stove until warm (or microwave if taking to work) and add toppings of your choice. So easy and wholesome!



Jill Smart
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Jill Smart

Certified Transformation Coach at Finding My FITS
Jill Smart RN, BSN is a Certified Transformation Coach, with over 21 years of nursing experience. She is also a former Jazzercise Instructor.

Jill joined in October 2013 after a significant weight gain from a knee injury. She began Fitlife Small Group Coaching program in February 2014 and to date has lost over 80 pounds! Her passion for helping people allows her to assist clients who are ready to transform their nutritional and mindset habits.

Jill believes it is her mission to contribute to a greater cause and you will find her leading by example. If you are looking for someone that wants to help by making the most impact possible, you can connect with her.
Jill Smart
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Glenn was in an accident with a hockey puck that made it so his mouth had to be wired shut! While he was going through recovery he found that Organifi Protein sustained him in a healthy way where he was able to maintain his muscle mass while still be able to loose weight.

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