Why whole grains make a difference, and where to find them.

By Melinda Page and Elizabeth Wells
Updated June 19, 2006
Quentin Bacon

The word refined is a compliment when it comes to your sense of style, but for your diet it's another thing entirely.

Studies show that eating whole, rather than refined, grains may help reduce your risk of heart disease, ward off diabetes, and control cholesterol. In fact, the U.S. government recommends at least three daily servings of whole grains, but most Americans get only one. That's partly because the grains in most packaged foods are refined, which strips away the bran (the outer layer, containing fiber, vitamins, and minerals) and the germ (the antioxidant- and vitamin-rich core). What remains is the endosperm, which is mostly carbohydrates.

The good news: Whole-grain breads and other products―crackers, bagels, cookies―are now easier to find. But sorting out the healthy from the merely filling can be tricky. "When buying a loaf of bread or a box of cereal, consider the front of the package an advertisement," says Denver-based dietitian Maureen Callahan. "You can't tell what's in it, even if you see the words 'good source' and 'whole grains.'" Instead, when buying a whole-grain product, follow these steps:

  • Check the ingredient list and make sure the first one listed is a whole grain. Some whole grains include whole wheat (it must contain the word whole―unbleached wheat flour and cracked wheat don't count), whole cornmeal, and even popcorn.
  • Look at the fiber content. There should be at least three grams of fiber in a slice of bread and five or more per serving of cereal.