How Processing Affects Grains

1 Comment

How Processing Affects Grains

Author: Aakansha GuptaDietitian-in-training

Have you ever asked yourself why bread kept out on your kitchen counter does not spoil for weeks? What gives it such a long shelf-life? It’s the fact that it’s made from refined grains.

You might wonder what’s the difference between whole and refined grains. Why are grains refined in the first place? Which ones should you eat? You’ll know that and more by the end of this article.


Grain’s Anatomy

Let’s take the wheat grain as an example - other grains have a similar anatomy - and imagine travelling through the grain from the inside out. The first layer is the germ, then the endosperm and finally the bran.

The endosperm is where the grain gets its starchiness. It’s mostly made of starch, as well as some protein and B vitamins.

The germ and the bran store a variety of nutrients. These parts contain protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and many other beneficial compounds that we collectively call phytochemicals, phyto meaning “plant”. The germ also contains some fats.


Refining Away Nutrition

During the processing that turns wheat grains into white flour, the nutrient-dense parts - the bran and the germ - are removed and only the starchy endosperm is left. This is calledrefining. The flour is then bleached to whiten it, which further destroys many of its nutrients.

Refining makes white bread so resistant to spoilage because it removes a lot of what would have attracted bacteria and mold, particularly the fats and protein.

Unfortunately, in this case human metabolism has a simiar idea as bacteria about what makes good food!

World of Grains

Whole grain flour is more nutritious than refined flour, but even better is eating intact grains, which are grains that haven’t been milled into flour but are close to their original state.

Here you have a great variety to choose from: oats (rolled and steel cut), barley, quinoa, buckwheat, wheat berries, farro, freekeh, amaranth and more!So eat your grains whole and don’t miss out on a myriad of benefits:


Whole grains have about 80% more fiber than refined grains. Fiber leaves you full longer after a meal and helps to regulate digestive health, blood glucose levels and cholesterol levels.

BONUS POINTS - it helps with weight control too! [1]


They reduce the risk of some types of cancer and of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease.

INSIDER’S TIP - the phytochemicals in grains work better when combined with fruits and vegetables. [1]


A class of polyphenols with a strong antioxidant effect.[1]

Vitamins and minerals:

Whole grains contain  variety of health-supporting nutrients, such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium and selenium.

The prebiotic effect:

The fiber in whole grains is food for the friendly bacteria in your gut. Keeping them happy improves our digestion and immune system function. [2]

Sorting Through Terminology

Are you making a healthy choice by eating bread made with whole wheat flour? Or multi-grain flour crackers?  Or something enriched with wheat germ or bran? What about an organic grain product?

Food packaging contains a dizzying amount of terminology, much of it meant to be misleading to make the product seem healthier. Fun fact: a bread which is brown in colour is not necessarily made from whole grains. The colour might be there from the addition of molasses.

To cut through the confusion, look specifically for the term “whole wheat” or “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the label. Choosing intact grains over grain products makes this even easier, as there will only be one ingredient!

So next time you’re in the grocery store, invest in your health by spending a little more time finding those grains that are most whole.


  1.  Jonnalagadda, S.S., et al.,Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. The Journal of Nutrition, 2011.141(5): p. 1011S-1022S.
  2. Slavin, J.,Whole Grains and Digestive Health. Cereal Chemistry, 2010.87(4): p. 292-296.

1 Response

Trilom jain
Trilom jain

August 07, 2018

Nice and useful information. Very good .

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.