Are refined grains as bad as they sound?

We have always read that whole grains are healthier, so why are foods with refined grains sold? For the same reason that sugary ultra-processed products are sold, because it is cheaper than worrying about the health of consumers. We are going to differentiate whole grains from refined ones and learn to identify whole foods that really are not, since “deception” is allowed on the labels.

The current food industry aligns itself with marketing and with the advertising laws to sneak up on us deceits that really are not, at least in the eyes of current regulations, however, when consumers discover it, they may feel cheated and manipulated. We refer to integral products and it is that not everything that bears the word “integral” is, or at least not 100%.

Throughout this text we will understand why it is so important to consume whole foods and why we should stay away from refined ones. Refined oils, sugary ultra-processed products, cocoa percentages and other similar examples are often discussed, but whole foods rarely.

What is whole grain?

It is a cereal that preserves all its parts, that is, it is not a processed grain. The 3 parts of the grain are: bran, endosperm and the germ. Each of these parts provides important nutrients to our body.

For example, the bran is the shell that covers the grain and is very rich in fiber , apart from B vitamins and minerals such as iron, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium. The endosperm is an intermediate layer and there we find carbohydrates and proteins, while in the germ we locate vitamins of group B, E and healthy fats as well as important antioxidants.

This is why a 100% whole grain cereal is more nutritious because it keeps its parts intact. It can be considered integral, although the presentation of the product is in flour, ground, flake, powder, etc. format. The important thing is that the ingredients put 100% integral.

Un hombre con la mano llena de cereales integrales

What are refined grains?

They are cereals from which all their parts have been taken away and only contain the endosperm, which is where carbohydrates and proteins are found, hence a product with refined cereals has a higher caloric value than a whole grain one.

These types of cereals have lost almost all of the germ and all the bran after the refining process. This also has its advantages and that is that it achieves a cereal rich in starch perfect for pastry making and with a finer texture, but it has many disadvantages such as poor digestion, increased blood glucose, low nutritional value, lack of fiber, etc. .

Apart from being better cereals for baking, they earn another extra, and that is that they keep better for longer, hence the vast majority of cookies, cakes, breads, sweets, breakfast cereals, etc. are made with refined grains.

Main differences

When we talk about whole grains and refined grains, the main difference is the nutritional value, and that is that the refined ones have little nutritional contribution and the whole grains have high levels of fiber, vitamins, minerals and proteins.

With whole grains, the feeling of satiety is greater and lasts longer, while whole grains are barely satiating and we will be hungry soon. This is due to the level of fiber, which is much higher in whole grains.

Another key difference is the blood sugar level. The refined ones have a high glycemic level and that is because their carbohydrates are rapidly metabolized, creating glucose peaks in our blood. While whole grains are slowly absorbed and thanks to their high fiber content, there are no blood glucose peaks.

Remember that, most of the time, refined cereals are present in ultra- processed or processed products, so they already bring other low-quality ingredients such as refined oils, fats, sugars, additives, colorants, etc.

Regarding the protein content, a whole grain cereal provides between 2 and 6 grams of protein for every 100 grams of product. This translates into greater satiety and a lower glycemic index.

Something very curious is that refined cereals create a certain addiction and that is mainly due to the fact that they contain many sugars and are low in fiber, protein and rich in starch.

Pan hecho con cereales integrales

How to spot fake whole foods

Here we come to an interesting point and that is that the current regulations allow foods to identify or highlight certain ingredients, even if they do not comply in their entirety. That is, you can put some biscuits or a sliced bread in its packaging that is integral, although when reading the ingredients we see that it has 5% whole grains.

Also, grains have been ground and floured so many times, so they actually look more like refined grains than whole grains.

To make sure that we are eating whole grains, whether they are cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, breads, pasta and others, you have to read the labels and check their ingredients well. If it does not say that 100% of the cereals used are whole grains, then it is not a 100% whole grain product, no matter how much it is on the packaging.

There is no legislation in Spain that regulates this properly, so with at least 5% of whole grain being used, the brand can already emphasize that its product is whole , when in reality it is refined and is misleading the consumer. .

If when reading the label we see that there are less than 90% whole grains, it is best to choose another product. We do not trust those that are high in fiber or those that in their packaging highlight cereals or vitamins and minerals. The key is to read the label.

In fact, there is a trick and it is that, as many of us know, the bran of the cereal is a dark yellowish brown color. The current industry uses it to brown their food and make us believe that it is truly a whole grain bread, even if it is refined and only has a minimum of 5% whole grain.