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Switch Refined Grain to Whole Grain for Health: Why and How?

Written by: Registered Dietitian, Joni Gerkin

In December of 2020, the new Dietary Guidelines of Americans, 2020-2025 updated version was released. The recommendation continues from the previous version for making at least half the grains you eat whole grains.Both whole grains and refined grains provide energy in the form of carbohydrates, protein, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals found in the grain’s endosperm. The difference is the additional layers of the germ and bran that are removed in refinement and have the most vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The bran is the most outer layer of the grain kernel, and it contains the fiber as well as B-vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. The germ is the core of the seed, where the growth occurs for the plant and it is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B-vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.

So, what are the health benefits that the additional nutrients in whole grains give?

  • The fiber slows down the breakdown of starch into glucose indigestion, which allows for steady energy rather than spikes in blood sugar, and it also increases satiety for weight maintenance.

  • Fiber helps to lower cholesterol as well as remove other waste from your digestive tract.

  • Fiber may also help prevent small blood clots which can lower the risk of stroke and heart attack.

  • All those phytochemicals and essential minerals may protect against some cancers.

How do you go about substituting whole grain for refined grain?

Certainly, choosing whole-grain bread, pasta and other products is a great way to get whole grains into your diet, but did you know that you can also substitute whole wheat in your favorite recipes. Some recipes are a little more forgiving in the substitution. Quick bread, such as pancakes, muffins, biscuits, and scones allows a 50% replacement without any appreciable difference in consistency, texture, or flavor. Cookies, brownies, and bars also allow for an easy substitution. Again, a 50% substitution will not be noticeable. At a 100% substitution you might start to notice a grainy texture fresh out of the oven, but letting the baked goods sit overnight will soften the bran to improve the texture. Also, if you are making drop cookies that require chilling, allow them to sit for an extra 25-minutes for the additional liquid absorption. The substitution of whole wheat flour for refined flour in yeast bread can be a bit trickier. Rolls and pizza crust will not be noticeable. Due to the changes in the rate of liquid absorption with a higher amount of whole wheat flour, the substitution can cause a stiffer dough. Luckily, this can be overcome even with a 100% replacement of the refined flour with whole wheat flour. For every one cup of flour, increase the liquid by two- teaspoons, and before kneading allow the dough to rest for an additional 30 minutes. With these small changes, your whole wheat dough should rise just as high as your refined flour version. If you are looking for more information on this topic including great whole wheat baked good recipes, visit the King Arthur Baking company website:

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