By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Jun 24, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Do women need to take calcium to avoid osteoporosis?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 24 Jun. 2024, Accessed 22, Jul. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, June 24). Do women need to take calcium to avoid osteoporosis?. Go Ask Alice!,

Dear Alice,

Can you explain the difference in healthiness of breads and grains? Are all darker grains better for you than lighter counterparts? Why? If all bread is low in fat, how can it be bad for dieters, etc.?

Dear Reader, 

Saying that a slice of whole wheat bread has more nutrients than a cookie might be a no-grainer, but it can be trickier to compare grain with grain. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that at least half of the grains you eat be whole grains. However, the color of the grains doesn’t always tell the whole story. When it comes to bread specifically, whole grain bread has plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that all help to make it a nutrient dense food. Whole grains are great foods for those looking to lose weight, but many people believe that eating carbohydrates may hinder their progress. Just like any food, whole grain breads can have a place in an eating pattern that supports your body’s needs, even if you’re trying to lose weight. Identifying healthy whole grains may require some practice with reading nutrition labels—read on to find out more! 

The mighty grain is a seed harvested from edible grasses. Whole grains contain all three parts of the original kernel: the bran (the outer shell rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals), the germ (the nutrient-rich core which sprouts into a new plant), and the endosperm (a starchy middle layer filled with carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals). Whole grains are a great source of fiber and nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium, iron, zinc, and selenium. These nutrients help to promote gut health and cell function. In addition, the high fiber content in whole grains can help to promote bowel movements, improve cholesterol levels, and lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers. The fiber and resistant starches in whole grains don’t cause as many blood sugar level spikes and crashes as may occur with refined grains. This makes them a good choice for people with diabetes or those seeking to avoid the post-lunch dip. The high fiber content in whole grains can also help to create a feeling of fullness, which may help with weight loss and management. 

Some common whole grains include wheat, oats, quinoa, barley, rye, bulgur, millet, buckwheat, and rice. On the other hand, refined grains have been milled to produce a finer texture and longer shelf life. This process strips the germ and bran from the grain, removing almost all its fiber and many other nutrients. Foods with refined grains include white bread, white rice, pastries, cakes, and crackers. Sometimes, nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that were removed during the milling process are added back. These grains are often labelled as “enriched.” Another common term you might find on food labels is “fortified.” This means that the product contains added nutrients that were not originally there (such as iron or folic acid).  

With so many different types of whole grain products on the supermarket shelves, deciding which ones to get can be overwhelming. It’s true that some whole grains may be darker in color than refined grains, but not all of them are. Bread can be made with white whole wheat flour, which contains all parts of the wheat kernel (and is thus a whole grain) but is light in color. Bread that is brown or darker in color could also be colored with molasses or other ingredients and may not actually contain whole grains. Food labels themselves can also be confusing or misleading. Labels like “bran”, “multi-grain”, or “100% wheat” don’t always mean that the product is made with whole grains.  

The best way to know for certain whether a loaf of bread contains whole grains or not is to read the nutrition label on it and keep a look out for products that: 

  • Include the word “whole.” 
  • Have whole grains listed at the top of the ingredient list. 
  • Include fewer ingredients in addition to whole grains. 
  • Have a high fiber content. 
  • Have little to no added sugar. 

Nutrition labels are a useful tool meant to help people make informed purchases based on their individual goals, overall health, and nutritional needs. In addition, some food packaging may have the Whole Grain Stamp from the Whole Grains Council. This makes it easier for shoppers to quickly identify foods with whole grains.  

Still hungry for more information on whole grains? You might consider speaking with a registered dietitian or checking out for more tips on incorporating more whole grains into your meals.  


Additional Relevant Topics:

Nutrition and Physical Activity
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