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Food and Nutrition

Whole Grains - Get The Facts

Did you know?

Whole grains are often a source of fibre and are typically low in fat. Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide recommends that Canadians eat a diet rich in whole grains by choosing at least half their daily grain servings from whole grain sources.

What are whole grains?

Grains are often the seeds of certain plants. The seed, or kernel, is made up of three parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ - all of which contain valuable nutrients that play an important role in your diet. There are many types of grains, including cereal grains such as wheat, rice, oats, barley, corn, wild rice, and rye, as well as pseudocereals such as quinoa and buckwheat. These grains can be either whole or refined.

Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel. Examples include rolled oats and brown rice. You can eat whole grains on their own or find them as ingredients in products or recipes.

What are refined grains?

Refined grains are whole grains that have had the germ and the bran removed (examples include white rice, white flour, grits and cream of wheat). This results in a loss of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Some refined grains are enriched with certain vitamins (for example, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin) and minerals (for example, iron) that were removed during milling. In Canada, manufacturers are also required to fortify white flour with folic acid. However, white flour still lacks some nutrients found in whole grain (for example, fibre and magnesium).

Is whole wheat flour whole grain?

In Canada, when wheat is milled, parts of the kernel are separated and then recombined to make whole wheat flour. Under the Food and Drug Regulations, up to 5% of the kernel can be removed to help reduce rancidity and prolong the shelf life of whole wheat flour. The portion of the kernel that is removed for this purpose contains much of the germ and some of the bran. However, according to the American Association for Cereal Chemists International definition, it is only when all parts of the kernel are used in the same relative proportions as they exist in the original kernel, that the flour can be considered whole grain.

Is my 100% whole wheat bread whole grain?

Whole wheat bread is made with whole wheat flour. As sold in Canada, whole wheat flour may have much of the germ removed. Therefore, 100% whole wheat bread may not be whole grain - however, it remains a nutritious choice that provides dietary fibre not found in white bread.

How do I know if a product is made with whole grains?

Look for the word "whole grain" on the label and in the ingredient list. Many foods containing whole grains will have the words "whole grain" followed by the name of the grain as one of the first ingredients. Products labelled with the words "multigrain," and "organic" are not necessarily whole grain - the flour or grains in the products may be made with or consist of little or no whole grains.

Advice for consumers

Health Canada recognizes the importance whole grains play in a healthy diet. The Food Guide provides practical tips on how you can include whole grains in your meals each day.

  • Make at least half of your grain products whole grain each day
  • Choose grain products that are lower in fat, sugar or salt
  • Read the label on foods to find out if the first ingredients listed are whole grains

For more information, please visit Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.