What is a whole grain?

  • Grains are edible seeds from cereal grasses.  Like any other seed, they have 3 main parts:
    • Bran, which is a protective covering over the seed
    • Germ, which is the part of the seed that a new plant would sprout from
    • Endosperm, which would serve as the food source for the new sprout until it is able to put down roots and get its nutrients from the soil.

whole grain diagram

  • How can I see the different parts of a whole grain?
    • It is difficult to see these parts on an actual piece of grain, as grain seeds have been dried and are very small.  However, if you take a frozen lima bean and carefully rub it, you can take it apart.

The bran will come off of the outside,


and then you can see the germ that pokes out just a little bit


from the endosperm.


    • A lima bean is not a grain.  However, it is a seed and therefore has the same parts as a grain seed does.  This makes it a good model for explaining whole grains.
  • Why does it matter if we eat whole grains?
    • The bran is the part of a grain that is highest in fiber, which helps us to maintain regular digestive systems.
    • The germ is the part of the grain that has most of the vitamins, which we need to be as healthy as possible.
    • The endosperm is the part of the grain that has most of the calories.
    • When we eat processed or refined grains, we are getting most of the calories but not most of the nutrition from grains.  Eating more whole grains helps us to be healthier people.

Apple Oatmeal5_Stir in oatmealDSC_246026_Bake at 425 for 45 min

  • Aren’t whole grains more expensive than other grains?
    • Often, this is the case.  Whole wheat flour and brown rice, for instance, cost more than their processed counterparts.
    • However, oats are an inexpensive and versatile whole grain.  Rolled oats can be cooked as the sweet breakfast food we are most familiar with, but can also be cooked with vegetables and/or broth to make a savory grain dish as a dinner side dish.  Rolled oats can be mixed in with flour when making baked goods like muffins or cookies.
    • Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank always has rolled oats available for the food pantries and soup kitchens that we work with because they are an economical way to eat more whole grains.  For more information about why oats are so important to the food bank, check out this blog post about oats.