How “whole” are whole grains and are they always healthy?

Dear readers: Whenever I spot a link between food industry professionals and scientists, I get a queazy feeling in my stomach as their intention is almost by definition driven by profits and never by our health and well being.

Look twice

Look twice

In the 1999’s definition of “whole grain” by the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) International, which is exactly that ominous kind of mixture of food industry professionals and scientists, “whole grain” can be any mixture of components of an intact grain (the bran, endosperm and germ) but the grains are allowed to be (and usually are), processed so that the parts are separated and ground before being put into foods.

To clear things up a bit – the “whole grain” is an INTACT grain – a fiber-rich coating of bran surrounding a starchy endosperm and a reproductive kernel called the germ. The fiber content is what’s synonymous with good health, good digestion, lower cholesterol, heart health etc.

When you separate these components and process them, the contents of healthy fiber and nutrients drop significantly.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration adopted (to no wonder) the AACC definition in 2006, allowing the food industry to push out their products marketed as “whole grain” that contain very little fiber and lots of sugar.

As reported by the Scientific American’s text Whole Grain Foods Not Always Healthful from July 2013:

“An individual would have to eat 10 bowls of Multi-grain Cheerios, 16 slices of whole-wheat bread, or nine cups of brown rice to get the fiber recommended for an American adult for one day. “There’s nothing wrong with eating brown rice, but you can’t expect health benefits if you’re going to be eating brown rice as your source of whole grains,” David Klurfeld the national program leader for human nutrition in the Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Department of  Agriculture.”

When the whole grains are being processed (usually by grinding or flaking) to make them tastier and longer lasting, this also degrades their natural antioxidant content and markedly reduces the amount of fiber – remember, those are the two ingredients that make whole grains good for the heart and over-all health.

To make matters worse, the AACC International recently went on to propose a modification of its definition of “whole grain”, which is bad as it is, to allow for this nutrient loss during processing.

In the same text, the Scientific American goes on to say this:

“Individuals also absorb the sugars from some processed whole grains more quickly than they do those from intact whole grains, triggering blood sugar spikes that can “possibly increase hunger, lead to overeating and increase the risk for diseases related to insulin resistance, like diabetes and heart disease,” says David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. For instance, bread made from 80 percent–whole-wheat kernels is absorbed much more slowly than bread made from ground whole wheat. When a person eats intact grains, the body has to break down the outer bran before digesting the inner endosperm and germ. Ground grains often don’t provide these metabolic brakes.”

So the next time you’re out shopping for food, be careful – many foods labeled “whole grain” are not that nutritious and healthy at all – they’re mostly sugar and sodium (DISASTER!).

Only buy those whole grain foods that are rich in fiber and according to study results, the whole grain foods with a ratio higher than one to 10 of fiber to total carbohydrate also have less sugar, trans fats and sodium than other similar food products.

In conclusion, always be on a look out and carefully read the labels – don’t trust the marketed messages neatly crafted to fool you and placed on the front of the packaging for you to read BEFORE you looked for the label.

For all of you who haven’t yet seen this sobering film on what we eat and what the food industry is doing to us (and doesn’t want us to know), or perhaps for those of you who need to see it again here it is – The Food inc. (viewer discretion is advised as it contains some disturbing scenes):

Yours in Health,

Dr. Mo