It’s important to eat a diet that includes whole grains. But not everyone knows what that means. “Some people aren’t sure what a whole grain is. It can be confusing, and you may wind up making the wrong food choices,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Whole grains are seeds or kernels that have three parts: the bran, or outer skin; the germ, or embryo that can turn into a plant; and the endosperm, or food supply for the embryo. All three parts contain important nutrients such as protein, B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and unsaturated (good) fats. Many whole grains—such as barley, rye, and wheat—also contain fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, improves digestion, and controls blood sugar. A study in JAMA Internal Medicine linked eating whole grains to a 9% lower overall death rate and a 15% lower death rate from heart disease, as we reported in April 2015.