Let’s talk about grains shall we?  While I don’t necessarily consume a lot of grains (except for the past two weeks of vacation), and while reading the book Grain Brain totally changed my thoughts on breads and the like even more, not all grains are created equal.

What are whole grains?


If you’ve ever read a food label, you have probably read the words “refined” and “enriched” and even “whole grain” a time or two on the list of ingredients.  And even more so, you’ve probably seen the big flashy words “whole grain” on the front of the many products…luring you to make you think you’re about to purchase a healthy product.

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Look at this picture of a whole grain kernel.

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You will notice three parts to the kernel:

  • Germ as in innermost part of the kernel containing vitamins and minerals and healthy fats,
  • Endosperm in the middle that has carbohydrates and proteins, and
  • Bran as the outermost layer that contains not only vitamins and minerals, but also fiber.

If you read a food label and it advertises whole grain, then the words “whole grain” (or a whole grain food) should be listed as the first ingredient on the list of ingredients.  A whole grain product contains all three parts of the grain kernel, therefore supplying you with all of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients contained in each.  You’ll also notice when you eat a whole grain product, it’s usually nuttier in flavor with a lot more texture–this is because you’re eating the whole grain kernel!  Get it!?

Go back to my How to Read a Food Label post and break down the food label to help make a more accurate determination if you’re choosing a healthy food item or not.

So now let’s take a look at two other food label ingredients you’ve probably read:

  • Refined-the outer layer of the kernel as been removed, therefore the kernel has been refined, or changed in someway.  Note when the outer layer or the bran has been removed, you’re removing those valued nutrients but more importantly the fiber.
  • Enriched-the entire kernel has been pulverized to create white flour as we know it and when the kernel has been altered to this inth degree, it’s lost all of it’s nutrients along with it…so therefore, it has to be enriched by manually adding back in the nutrients and fiber that was lost in the process.

Do you see the difference in the three grain options?  Who knew!?

Also, don’t be fooled because a product is brown—read the label.  This brown color may be from additives such as sugar and food colorings.

Here is a limited list of some whole grain food options and I usually go with 1/2 cooked as a serving:

  • oats
  • quinoa (one of my favorites)
  • muesli
  • buckwheat
  • rye
  • millet
  • barley

Now let’s talk gluten.  Gluten is a protein found in these layers of the grain kernel that is like a “glue” that binds it all together. Just picture what forms when you mix water with flour = a gummy paste.  Hello!  No wonder we have so many digestive issues!

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During my weight loss coaching, we typically limit bread and wheat products for about 3-6 weeks to determine any gluten sensitivities.  A gluten sensitivity may indeed surface once adding grains back into the diet.  Gluten sensitivity symptoms may include:

  • bloating/flatulence
  • diarrhea/constipation
  • sour stomach
  • nausea/reflux
  • mood swings and depression
  • skin rashes
  • inflammatory issues
  • poor sleep

If any of these apply to you, especially after eating, limit your wheat intake or better yet, eliminate it for several weeks to see if your symptoms resolve.

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Does this mean you don’t need to consume any wheat products or ever have bread again?  Of course, not!  Just remember it’s all about moderation and balance, and while, yes, I may have consumed wayyyy to much on our recent vacation, I still typically live by the 80/20 rule.

I have also found substitutes to use in place of white flour (aka gummy paste).  My favorites are quinoa flour, oat flour and my real favorite is almond flour.  Quinoa and Oat flour are a bit grainier while almond flour is smoother and easier to mix…and it tastes great!

If you follow me on Pinterest, I have a board specifically dedicated to Quinoa and its fabulous recipes!




Disclaimer:  Remember I’m no expert!  I’m merely sharing what I’ve learned through my own experiences.  Refer to your physician or health professional for more info.  Also bear in mind that having a gluten sensitivity is totally different than actually having Celiac Disease in which the body recognizes gluten as a foreign invader causing damage to the colon and digestive system. 

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