Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA

James Krider, MD

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Serving size of grains.

Why is it important to eat grains?

Tips to help you eat grains.

Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.

Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel -- the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples include:
  • whole-wheat flour
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • oatmeal
  • whole cornmeal
  • brown rice

Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are:

  • white flour
  • degermed cornmeal
  • white bread
  • white rice

Most refined grains are enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Check the ingredient list on refined grain products to make sure that the word “enriched” is included in the grain name. Some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains.

Whole grains :

brown rice
bulgur (cracked wheat)

Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals:

whole wheat cereal flakes

whole grain barley
whole grain cornmeal
whole rye
whole wheat bread
whole wheat crackers
whole wheat pasta
whole wheat sandwich buns and rolls
whole wheat tortillas
wild rice

Less common whole grains:


Refined grains :

corn tortillas*




Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals
corn flakes

white bread
white sandwich buns and rolls
white rice.

*Most of these products are made from refined grains. Some are made from whole grains. Check the ingredient list for the words “whole grain” or “whole wheat” to decide if they are made from a whole grain. Some foods are made from a mixture of whole and refined grains.

Some grain products contain significant amounts of bran. Bran provides fiber, which is important for health. However, products with added bran or bran alone (e.g., oat bran) are not necessarily whole grain products.

Grains: 1 serving is

  • Bagel – 1 mini bagel; 1 large bagel = 4 ounces eq.
  • Biscuits – 1 small 2” diameter. 1 large (3”) = 2 ounce eq.
  • Breads – 1 slice
  • Bulgur – ½ cup cooked
  • Cornbread – 1 small piece (2 ½” x 1 ¼” x 1 ¼”); 1 medium (2 ½” x 2 ½” x 1 ¼”)
  • Crackers – 5 whole wheat; 2 rye crispbreads; 7 square or round crackers
  • English muffins – ½ muffin
  • Oatmeal – ½ cup cooked, 1 packet instant, 1 ounce dry
  • Pancakes – 1 pancake (4 ½”) 2 small pancakes (3”)
  • Popcorn – 3 cups, popped
  • Ready-to-eat cereal – 1 cup flakes or rounds, 1 ¼ cup puffed
  • Rice – ½ cup cooked, 1 ounce dry
  • Pasta (spaghetti, macaroni) – ½ cup cooked, 1 ounce dry.
  • Tortillas – 1 small flour (6”), 1 corn (6”)

Eating grains, especially whole grains, provides health benefits. People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Grains provide many nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies.

Health benefits

  • Consuming foods rich in fiber, such as whole grains, as part of a healthy diet, reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Consuming foods rich in fiber, such as whole grains, as part of a healthy diet, may reduce constipation. 
  • Eating at least 3 ounce equivalents a day of whole grains may help with weight management.
  • Eating grains fortified with folate before and during pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects during fetal development.


Food sources of the nutrients in bold can be found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Click on the nutrient name to link to the food sources table.

  • Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).
  • Dietary fiber from whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods such as whole grains help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Whole grains are good sources of dietary fiber; 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. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those in the first trimester of pregnancy should consume adequate folate, including folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.
  • Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood. Many teenage girls and women in their childbearing years have iron-deficiency anemia. They should eat foods high in heme-iron (meats) or eat other iron containing foods along with foods rich in vitamin C, which can improve absorption of non-heme iron. Whole and enriched refined grain products are major sources of non-heme iron in American diets.
  • 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.
Tips to help you eat whole grains

Whole wheat icon At Meals:

  • To eat more whole grains, substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product – such as eating whole-wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice instead of white rice. It’s important to substitute the whole-grain product for the refined one, rather than adding the whole-grain product.
  • For a change, try brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Try brown rice stuffing in baked green peppers or tomatoes and whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese.
  • Use whole grains in mixed dishes, such as barley in vegetable soup or stews and bulgur wheat in casserole or stir-fries.
  • Create a whole grain pilaf with a mixture of barley, wild rice, brown rice, broth and spices. For a special touch, stir in toasted nuts or chopped dried fruit.
  • Experiment by substituting whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes. They may need a bit more leavening.
  • Use whole-grain bread or cracker crumbs in meatloaf.
  • Try rolled oats or a crushed, unsweetened whole grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish, veal cutlets, or eggplant parmesan.
  • Try an unsweetened, whole grain ready-to-eat cereal as croutons in salad or in place of crackers with soup.
  • Freeze leftover cooked brown rice, bulgur, or barley. Heat and serve it later as a quick side dish.

Popcorn icon As Snacks:

  • Snack on ready-to-eat, whole grain cereals such as toasted oat cereal.
  • Add whole-grain flour or oatmeal when making cookies or other baked treats.
  • Try a whole-grain snack chip, such as baked tortilla chips.
  • Popcorn, a whole grain, can be a healthy snack with little or no added salt and butter.

What to Look for on the Food Label:

  • Choose foods that name one of the following whole-grain ingredients first on the label’s ingredient list:

“brown rice”
“graham flour”
“whole-grain corn”

“whole oats”
“whole rye”
“whole wheat”
“wild rice”

  • Foods labeled with the words “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “100% wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “seven-grain,” or “bran” are usually not whole-grain products.
  • Color is not an indication of a whole grain. Bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients. Read the ingredient list to see if it is a whole grain.
  • Use the Nutrition Facts label and choose products with a higher % Daily Value (%DV) for fiber – the %DV for fiber is a good clue to the amount of whole grain in the product.
  • Read the food label’s ingredient list. Look for terms that indicate added sugars, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and molasses) and oils (partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) that add extra calories. Choose foods with fewer added sugars, fats, or oils.
  • Most sodium in the food supply comes from packaged foods. Similar packaged foods can vary widely in sodium content, including breads. Use the Nutrition Facts label to choose foods with a lower % DV for sodium. Foods with less than 140 mg sodium per serving can be labeled as low sodium foods. Claims such as “low in sodium” or “very low in sodium” on the front of the food label can help you identify foods that contain less salt (or sodium).

Whole Grain Tips for Children

  • Set a good example for children by eating whole grains with meals or as snacks.
  • Let children select and help prepare a whole grain side dish.
  • Teach older children to read the ingredient list on cereals or snack food packages and choose those with whole grains at the top of the list.
source: USDA
This article was last reviewed March 7, 2006 by Dr. James Krider.


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Nuts & oils
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