The Whole Story: Whole Grain and Where to Get It

a woman eating a bowl of grains with oat milk

Whole grain is one of the virtues of our American (and Canadian) landscape. It stretches to the limits of the eye. The song says it well when it muses upon the “amber waves of grain.”

True, beauty doesn’t always have substance. But in the case…it does.

What is a whole grain?

The family of grains includes wheat, rice, oats – and many lesser-knowns like quinoa and amaranth. Each is different but shares a common seed (kernel) structure. Beyond the inedible hull, a whole grain has three layers. From outside to inside, these are the bran, germ, and endosperm.

  • Bran. Besides a boring breakfast cereal (typically with no toy in the box), bran refers to the outer layer of the grain. It’s what makes brown rice, for example, brown. White rice, on the other hand, does away with the bran (and germ). Choosing your rice – or other grain – isn’t just a matter of looks. The bran of the whole grain contains antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber.1
  • Germ. This is not to be confused with a bad microorganism. The germ of the grain is the embryo that sprouts, making a new grain plant. Its value includes B vitamins, protein, minerals, and healthy fats.1
  • Endosperm. This is the bulk of the grain kernel, responsible for feeding the young plant so that it can thrive. It is made of starchy carbohydrates, proteins, and some vitamins and minerals.1

A whole grain contains all three layers in their original proportion. Grains with one or more components (usually bran and germ) removed are considered refined grains – for example, white rice.

a bowl of whole grain oats with a scooper

What’s so good about whole grain?

The amazing thing about refined grains is just how much nutrition is lost in removing the germ and endosperm. Antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein may all suffer.2

It isn’t worth the sacrifice for what may be perceived as better taste. The American Heart Association (AHA), for one, has been an adamant advocate for whole grains.3 Additionally, a consensus statement by the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC), issued 2017 in Rome, confirmed a number of whole grain benefits:

  • Source of many essential vitamins and minerals
  • Strong evidence of reduced all-cause mortality
  • Strong evidence of reduced risk of:
    • Heart disease
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Obesity4

Where do I get my whole grain?

Looking for things that say “whole” on the package is a good start. Also, check for fiber on the nutrition label. Or maybe buy brown rather than white rice.

If you’re looking for other ways to get your whole grain besides rice, oatmeal, bread, and cereal – have you thought about plant milk? Elmhurst® 1925 has several grain milks to choose from, each proudly bearing the prestigious Whole Grains Council stamp (which many of our competitors do not). You can even take whole grain in your coffee!

a cup of whole grains and a carton of Elmhurst oat milk

It really is hard to argue with simpler, better.


1 Oldways Whole Grains Council, “What’s a Whole Grain? A Refined Grain?,” accessed 2-7-19

2 Kayla McDonnell, RD, “Brown vs White Rice – Which Is Betteryou’re your Health,” Healthline, 8-3-16

3 American Heart Association, “The Greatness of Whole Grains,” 10-5-16

4 International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium, “ICQC Scientific Consensus on Whole Grains,” 2017