Grains are an important component of most people’s diets. All grains begin as “whole grains,” but processing often alters grain products, resulting in foods that don’t pack the nutritional punch they once did.

Whole grains consist of three key edible parts, says The Whole Grains Council. This includes the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the edible grain kernel. The germ is the embryo, which can sprout into a new plant. The endosperm is the food and energy source for the germ. The endosperm is the largest component of the grain kernel and has starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of minerals and vitamins. Conversely, the bran has fiber and B vitamins, while the germ contains healthy fats, protein, many B vitamins, and minerals.

During the refining process, typically the bran and germ are stripped away. That greatly reduces the nutrient profile of the kernel, removing protein and essential nutrients. Some may be restored by enriching refined grains, but refined products can’t compete with the healthy wholesomeness of whole grains.

Whole grains are preferential for a variety of reasons.

• Whole grains contain fiber, which is known to help control blood sugar, lower LDL cholesterol and reduce colon cancer risk. Oats, bulgar and barley have the most fiber.

• Lactic acid, which promotes good bacteria in the large intestines, can be found in whole grains. These bacteria can improve digestion and promote better nutrient absorption, advises Health magazine.

• Whole grains may help a person feel fuller. That can cut down on overeating and help control weight.

• Health experts say that eating whole grains can leave a person with less belly fat, also known as “central adiposity.” This is important for reducing risk of diabetes and other health issues.

These are just some of the reasons to select whole grains over refined, processed ones. Whole grains should provide the majority of grains in a person’s diet.

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