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Whole grains have more fiber and nutrients than refined grains.
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Grains are an excellent source of energy in the form of complex carbohydrates, and they're also rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Whole grains are the healthiest grains because they're good sources of fiber that's essential for a healthy digestive system. Wheat is the most commonly consumed whole grain, but there are many other types of healthy grains, such as spelt, barley, oats, quinoa and kamut.
Grains are often refined, which means the outer covering called the bran and the nutritious germ are removed before the grain is ground or processed any further. This gives refined flour a white color and lighter texture. Whole grains are unrefined, so they retain the bran and the germ. This gives whole-grain flour a darker color and heavier texture, but more importantly, lets the grain retain the fiber that's normally lost during refining.
Wheat, Spelt and Kamut
Whole-wheat grain is an excellent source of fiber and complex carbohydrates your body uses for energy. It's also a good source of B-complex vitamins and minerals such as manganese and selenium that are essential for energy production. Spelt is a close relative to wheat, but it has a sweeter and nuttier flavor. It also has more protein than wheat and it contains iron, a mineral that wheat naturally lacks. Kamut is another relative of wheat, but it has a buttery flavor. Like spelt, it also has more protein than regular whole wheat.
Oats, Quinoa and Barley
Oats are rarely refined so most foods made with oats are whole-grain foods. Oats are a good source of carbohydrates, fiber and minerals; plus, they contain a specific fiber called beta-glucan that lowers cholesterol. Quinoa is marketed and used as a grain, although it's really a seed. Quinoa is high in protein and fiber and is unique among whole grains in that it's also a good source of folate, one of the B-complex vitamins. Barley is similar to whole wheat from a nutrition standpoint, except it has smaller amounts of minerals.
Increasing Your Intake of Whole Grains
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests you consume at least three servings of whole grains every day. Start with oatmeal or whole-grain toast for breakfast and use whole-grain bread for your sandwich at lunch. Refined white pasta can be replaced with whole-grain pasta. Natural foods sections of grocery stores usually carry spelt and kamut that can be used in place of wheat in your recipes, and quinoa can be cooked and served as a hot breakfast cereal or as a side dish, in place of rice.