Whole-Grains 101 -- All You Need to Know

I have a question for YOU... are you eating enough whole-grains?  Most likely not.  Less than 1/3 of Americans are (1, 2, 3), so today I bring you 'Whole-Grains 101' -- who's eating them (and who's not); what whole-grains actually are; examples; recipes; and how to identify them on food labels.  All in under 9 minutes. 

It's recommended that Americans eat 3-5 servings of whole-grains a day (1, 2, 3).  The USDA says 'make half your grains whole' (5).  How many Americans are eating at least this measly amount?

Percentage of Americans achieving the whole-grain recommendation:

1.5% of children

4.3% of adolescents

4.8% of adults

6.4% >50 years (1, 2, 3)

This is horrible!  My recommendations are to make all of your grains whole and save refined grain products for treats or special occasions.

I'm not telling you never to eat a white flour cracker or slice of white bread ever again, but you should get these foods out of your house.   Stop buying and eating them regularly.  Instead, save them for special occasions when you have no other option.  Your waist line will thank you for it!

How much fiber are Americans eating?  

According to the National Health Interview Survey of 2000, the average American eats half of the recommended intake of fiber (4).  

This is horrible news my friends.  We are sliding down a slippery slop in the U.S. when it comes to diet.  Statistically, you are most likely either not eating enough whole-grains, fiber or both!  If you want to avoid the common chronic diseases that plague Americans (and the rest of most of the world) then you need to get educated and change your diet.

What is a whole-grain?

A whole-grain is a grain you can cook and eat directly from a garden.  It contains all of its original parts -- the bran, the germ and the endosperm.  When eaten 'whole' you're eating all of these part's vitamins, macronutrients, phytonutrients and fiber.  Each part has a different nutrient content, but how these pieces interact together is important too.  

Whole-grains can also be called 'intact' grains because again, all of the grain's original parts are well, intact.

What is a refined-grain?

When we eat refined grains, we are eating grains whose bran, germ and endosperm have been separated.  With white or 'wheat' (same thing) bread, you're just eating the endosperm.  You aren't getting the fiber and most of the nutrients.  You're eating empty calories that promote obesity and degenerative disease.  You have to overeat on these foods in order to feel full, because the nutrition has been removed.  Refined foods fool your satiety and stretch receptors, causing most people to gain weight.

Examples of whole-grain foods

  • Corn (including corn meal + popcorn)
  • Barley
  • Rice (wild rice, red, brown)
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Wheat (spelt, farro, kamut, durum, bulgur, cracked wheat, wheat berries)
  • Triticale (hybrid of rye and wheat)
  • Rye
  • Teff
  • Sorghum (also called milo)

Pseudo-grains that are considered whole-grains

  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat

How to Identify Whole-Grains on Food Packages

Now, you won't have to worry about this if you just buy whole-grains in bulk.  Like brown rice for example.  But when you're buying processed products (different than refined), here's what to look for to know if the product is really a whole-grain.  

1.  Check the ingredient list.  Never believe anything on the front of a food package.   

2.  The word 'whole' must be in-front of the grain word for it to truly be a whole-grain.  For example, 'whole wheat' or 'whole barley.'  These words also used... rolled, cracked, stone ground, 100% durum wheat or sprouted.  For more info on determining what words are used for specific grains, click here.

3.  Checking the fiber content can help you gauge if the product is 100% whole-grain.  Check for at least 3g of fiber per serving.

Caution:  Some products will have the first ingredient listed as a whole-grain, but the rest of the ingredients won't be.  Or, the fiber intake will be high, but only because bran has been added to the food.  Always read the ingredient list.  

'Trisha Approved' Whole-Grain Recipes

Here is a link to list of recipes that use rice and whole-grains.  Not every recipe is 'Trisha approved' but most are great.  

Congratulations... you've just completed Whole-Grains 101.  Now, I want you to ask yourself this question and reflect on your intake of whole-grains. Answer in the comments section below.  

Take Control Now

How many servings of 100% whole-grains did you eat yesterday?  How many servings of refined grains did you eat?  Which are you eating more of?  


1. O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Zanovec M, Cho S. Whole grain consumption is associated with diet quality and nutrient intake in adults: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999- 2004. J Am Diet Assoc 2010;110:1461–8.

2. O’Neil CE, Zanovec M, Cho SS, Nicklas TA. Whole grain and fiber consumption are associated with lower body weight measures in US. adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004. Nutr Res 2010;30:815–22.

3. Susan S Cho, Lu Qi, George C Fahey Jr, and David M Klurfeld. Consumption of cereal fiber, mixtures of whole grains and bran, and whole grains and risk reduction in type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:594–619

4. Thompson FE, Midthune D, Subar AF, McNeel T, Berrigan D, Kipnis V. Dietary intake estimates in the National Health Interview Survey, 2000: methodology, results, and interpretation. J Am Diet Assoc 2005;105: 352–63.

5. USDA. How many grain foods are needed daily?  Choose My Plate.  Accessed online March 2014 here.