Putting the “whole” back into grains. Saying no to “refined”!

Carbs: To eat or not to eat?: With the inevitable ebb and flow in the popularity of macronutrients, the average consumer is in a quandary as to whether he should consume carbs or not, and if there is really some credence to the gluten-free (no wheat, rye, oats and barley), mania that appears to have gripped the nation. In the 90’s when fats were demonized, carbohydrates were elevated to stardom with popular diet programs like Jenny Craig creating meals with at least 60% of their calories from carbohydrates.

However in the 2000’s, as consumers started flocking to gluten-free products, carbs may have fallen out of favor again as evidenced by data on the CDC website that showed statistically significant macronutrient trends : average carbohydrate intake decreased, and average protein intake increased between 1999-2000 and 07-08.(1)

Let’s review the facts on carbs and separate them from the flim flam that often sadly surrounds the topic of nutrition today. First off, let’s start with  a brief review of the functions of carbohydrates.


  1. Fuel source: Carbs are to your body what fuel is for your car. Neither can run without a primary energy source.  However choose “premium” over “regular” every time if you wish to get the most mileage out of your body, just like high quality premium grade gasoline, and try not to “overfill”.

    From bottom: salmon colored lentils, brown lentils, wild rice, yellow lentils, red rice and barley. © Copyright 2015 Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE

    Premium carbs: From bottom center, clockwise: salmon colored lentils, brown lentils, wild rice, yellow lentils, red rice and barley. © Copyright 2015 Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE

What are premium carbs?  Whole and unprocessed carbohydrates from whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, would be considered premium carbs. Whole grains are intact grains. After processing, they should retain the same proportion of bran, germ, and endosperm as that of the original grain to be considered whole grains (2)(3). Intact whole grains have an outer bran layer that is rich in insoluble fiber, and the inner germ layer packs a concentrated source of nutrients such as Vitamin E, phytonutrients and minerals to supply food for the growing sprout. Whole grains are significantly higher in dietary fiber, containing about 80 % more dietary fiber than refined grains (3).

Unfortunately, today’s grains are pulverized in a mill that strips the fiber and nutrient rich bran as well as the germ, leaving behind the starchy endosperm and a super fine white flour. This creates a greater surface area for your digestive enzymes to work on, leading to rapid breakdown of the available carbohydrate to sugar or glucose, your body’s primary energy currency, a subsequent large release of insulin from the pancreas, followed by a sugar “crash”, prompting hunger pangs later.

Today's refined grains are lacking the nutrient rich bran and germ. © Copyright 2015 Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE

Today’s refined grains are lacking the nutrient rich bran and germ. © Copyright 2015 Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE

Even though many grains are “enriched” by adding back several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron, a key component, fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Thus, you could say that today we are eating the pale shadow of the hearty, wholesome grain that our ancestors ate.

It is these refined grains that have given carbs a bad rap. In our quest to avoid the undesirable carbs, some of us may have mistakenly shunned the healthful whole grains that are high in fiber, and virtually thrown out the baby with the bath water! The take away here is that the quality of carbs is key, just as the quality of fats counts as we saw on the previous posts on dietary fats.

From bottom center, clockwise: red rice, barley, whole grain bread, and brown rice.

From bottom center, clockwise: red rice, barley, whole grain bread, and brown rice. © Copyright 2015 Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE.

Despite the current dietary guidelines recommending that individuals consume at least one-half of all their grains as whole grains (i.e. 3 servings/day; 1 serving = 16 g), (4), dietary intake data indicates that the average whole grain intake is 1 serving/day, with the majority of Americans not meeting their whole grain daily intake recommendations (56).

2. Protein sparing action of carbs

The “protein sparing” effect of carbs implies that when carbs are consumed in adequate amounts, it enables the body to use protein for what it’s meant to be used- i.e as building blocks and to help repair and re-build cells, rather than for energy.  Only adequate dietary carbs (and to a lesser extent, dietary fat), can prevent the use of protein for energy, and it’s action in doing so is called the “protein sparing” effect of carbs. To ensure complete sparing of body protein and avoidance of ketosis requires 50-100 grams of carbs per day depending upon the individual.  On extreme low carb diets, large amounts of protein have to be consumed to ensure that body protein is not sacrificed for energy.

3. Source of fiber:

Fiber is the structural part of the plant and is derived exclusively from carbohydrate rich foods such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Although fiber is the part of the plant food that you cannot digest, it is ironically just as important as the part that you can.

Whole grain shredded wheat with 6 grams of fiber. © Copyright 2015 Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE

Whole grain shredded wheat with 6 grams of fiber per serving. © Copyright 2015 Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE

Ever notice that a bowl of oatmeal with some fruit seems to hold you longer than a giant bagel? The higher fiber content in this meal simply means that your body has to work harder at breaking down the carbs in those foods, causing a slower rise in sugar, less insulin from your pancreas, preventing hunger pangs later.   The refining process however strips the bagel of fiber, thus enabling your body to digest and absorb the carbs rapidly, leading to spikes in sugar, insulin, a subsequent sugar crash, setting off the all too familiar “snack-attack”.

There are numerous studies demonstrating the health benefits of fiber and whole grains. Epidemiological and clinical studies demonstrate that intake of dietary fiber and whole grain is inversely related to obesity, type two diabetes, possibly cancer and cardiovascular disease. (6),(7),(8),(9)

Now that we understand the benefits that whole grains and “premium” carbs bring to the table, let’s look at what it takes to actually get these products to our dining table, literally! Please read my next post: “Whole grains and fiber:Unraveling the puzzle”, to learn more.

Disclaimer: This blog is strictly for informational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your Doctor or Registered Dietitian for recommendations tailored for your specific needs.

About Sangeeta Pradhan RD, CDE

Hi there! Welcome to my blog! If you are confused with all the conflicting messages you get bombarded with every day on carbs, fats, proteins, gluten and anything you can think of related to nutrition, look no further! The purpose of my blog is to cut through all this clutter, utilizing scientific, evidence based guidelines to help you, the consumer, navigate the complex, dietary landscape, and thus empower you to make informed decisions.
This entry was posted in Carbohydrates, Fiber and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Putting the “whole” back into grains. Saying no to “refined”!

  1. Pingback: Indian-style chickpeas with a tomato-onion sauce | Skinny on fats

  2. Pingback: Fiber spotlight: Lentil and black bean soup: gluten free, vegan | Skinny on fats

  3. Hurray. Excellent info on my favorite food group.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you! Just trying to cut through the clutter and confusion surrounding grains. So glad you found this helpful:)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary Rowen says:

    Thank you for this post. It’s refreshing to read something positive about carbs–the right ones anyway–for a change.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for your positive feedback, Mary. 😊. Clearly, not all carbs are created equal right?! Thank you so much for stopping by.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Aquileana says:

    Very interesting!… Thanks for providing this post as it can help us all become healthier when it comes to our way of eating!… Best wishes. Aquileana ⭐

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You are more than welcome. High fiber whole grains are a very important part of a healthy diet as the evidence shows. Thank you for visiting.😊


  9. Thanks sangeeta for stopping by my post , Nice meeting you , Look forward to reading your posts .Good times.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks and same here. Good times!😊

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Sangeeta. I just eat anything. Thank you for liking my poem “Is Anybody Listening?” Peace and Best Wishes. The Foureyed Poet.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Peace and good times to you too! Please stop by again. Have a wonderful week ahead:)


  13. AJ says:

    TBH I never knew what “whole” and “refined” really meant, and how different they were. Thanks for explaining food jargon!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You are more than welcome. AJ! My job becomes all the more rewarding when fellow bloggers and readers like you offer great feedback like this! Many thanks for doing so😊!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s