What's in a Grain?

February 2, 2017


Let's say you had a small salad and chicken for lunch and are feeling hungry and tired by 3pm. We've all been there. You. Need. Something. Quick. This feeling could be because you haven't balanced your meal with energy boosting carbohydrates! Our bodies need carbohydrates, especially whole grains, to keep us going. For example, the main source of fuel for our brain comes from carbohydrates. Think about it. What happens when you've gone too long without eating? Does headache, blurry vision, or poor concentration ring a bell? That's because we need about 40-60% of our daily food intake coming from carbohydrates. Carbohydrate-containing foods include: grains, starches, vegetables, dairy, legumes, and fruits. For some reason, grains and starches are getting a bad rap lately. Yet, this shouldn't be the case! When we eat the right types and the right portion of grains/starches, they can fit into a healthy meal plan.


So, what exactly is a whole grain? Glad you asked...


All grains are considered kernels before they are processed and have three parts: the bran, germ and endosperm. Whole grains, or foods made from them, contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. Together, they provide protein, fiber and essential vitamins to help us get through those long days. White or enriched flour usually contain only the endosperm leaving out valuable protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals that are found only in the bran and germ.     


Refined grains have been milled to remove the bran and the germ leaving a soft, finer texture. Not only does refining create a softer product, it also increases its shelf. Yet, by stripping away parts of the grain, nutrients are lost. So, this is how enriched grains came to be. Processing took away these vitamins and deficiencies were seen, shedding light on their need and were added back to the product. Why should you be eating a grain product that needs its nutritional value added back to it? Just eat the real product from the start! Not only do you get the vitamins, but also the needed fiber and protein! 


Remember, you should be getting at least HALF of your daily bread/starches and grains from whole grain products. A serving of whole grain includes a piece of 100% whole wheat bread, 1/2 cup cooked barley, or 1 whole wheat waffle (see my whole wheat banana waffle recipe below). Some easy ways to add whole grains to your diet is to substitute half of your flour when baking with whole wheat, change to brown rice at home and when ordering out, use corn tortillas instead of flour, replace pasta with barley or farro, or snack on air popped popcorn instead of crackers for a late night snack!


Food manufacturers will use terms that can be misleading on the packaging making you think the product contains a significant amount of whole grains, when it actually does not. Keep an eye out for terms like "made with whole grains", "contains whole wheat", multi-grain or seven grain", or "100% wheat" (should say whole wheat).


Below are considered whole grains:

  • Amaranth                         

  • Barley 

  • Brown and wild rice

  • Buckwheat

  • Bulgur

  • Corn and Whole Cornmeal

  • Emmer

  • Farro

  • Kamut® grain, Millet

  • Oats

  • Popcorn

  • Quinoa

  • Sorghum

  • Spelt

  • Teff

  • Triticale

  • Whole Rye

  • Whole or Cracked Wheat

  • Wheat Berries

Now, for that yummy waffle recipe which has become a staple in our morning weekend routine, and hopefully it will be in yours, too!


Whole Wheat Banana Waffles




1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

2-3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed

2 large overripe bananas, mashed well

1/3 cup canola oil (you can also try unsweetened applesauce in place of the oil)

3/4 cup milk or milk alternative (lukewarm)

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Extra banana slices or chopped nuts for the topping




Heat the waffle iron on high. In a medium bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients (the first 7 listed above). Whisk the mashed bananas, oil, egg, milk, and vanilla in a separate bowl. Once this is combined well, add to the dry ingredients and evenly blend. Be careful not to over mix.


Pour the batter onto the heated waffle iron covering most of the central areas. Once the steam has subsided and the waffles are golden brown, transfer to a plate being careful not to stack them as this will cause the waffles to lose their crispness. 


Top with sliced bananas, nuts, berries, or maple syrup and enjoy!



1. Old way Whole Grains Council: http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whats-whole-grain-refined-grain. 

2. USDA SNAP-Ed Connection:https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/resource-library/foods/whole-grains.

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