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Facts About Food: Grains


Did you know eating whole grain foods can help reduce your risk of some chronic diseases? Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product, including bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas and grits. For a snapshot of the recommendations click here.

Grains are divided into two subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel — bran, germ and endosperm and include:

  • Whole-wheat flour
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole cornmeal

Refined grains have been milled which removes the bran and germ. While this may give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, it also removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are:

  • White flour
  • De-germed cornmeal
  • White bread
  • White rice

Most refined grains are enriched, which means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing.

Health benefits

  • Consuming whole grains rich in fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease.
  • Consuming whole grains rich in fiber may reduce constipation.
  • Eating at least 3 ounce equivalents a day of whole grains may help with weight management.
  • Fiber-containing foods, such as whole grains, help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.


  • Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate) and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).
  • Whole grains are good sources of dietary fiber, which is important for your digestive system. Most refined (processed) grains contain little fiber.
  • B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) play a key role in metabolism — they help the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates. B vitamins are also essential for a healthy nervous system. Many refined grains are enriched with these B vitamins.
  • Folate (folic acid), another B vitamin, helps the body form red blood cells.
  • Whole and enriched refined grain products are major sources of non-heme iron in American diets. Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood.
  • Whole grains are sources of magnesium and selenium. Magnesium is a mineral used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles. Selenium protects cells from oxidation. It is also important for a healthy immune system.

To learn more about the grain group, click here.

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