Nutrients in Refined vs. Whole Grains

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Pictured: White rice, brown rice and black wild rice (only the brown and black rice are whole grain)

We actually don’t keep track of any of our food stats whether it’s calories, fat grams, carbs or nutrients. One of the key messages I took away from Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, is that if you eat a variety of whole foods that’s heavy on plants and reasonable in quantity then the rest will just fall into place. After all the subtitle of his book is “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And we agree that this philosophy is a whole lot easier than weighing out 4 ounces of salmon for dinner or writing down how many calories we consumed in a day.

Now that’s not to say knowing how nutrients in different foods compare couldn’t be valuable information, which is why I’m sharing the below charts today from the Whole Grains Council. In a recent post about “Understanding Grains” I detailed the difference between some of the most common whole and refined grains, and overall I think most people get the fact that whole-wheat is far more nutritious than refined white flour. But lately quite a few readers have been trying to challenge me when I say brown rice is more nutritious than white rice. So without further ado, below are the exact numbers from the Whole Grains Council that very clearly show you the difference between…

  • The whole grain – In the case of wheat and rice the whole grain versions are whole-wheat flour and brown rice, although other colored rice (like black and red) are also considered to be whole-grain.
  • The refined grain – The refined grain is what you end up with after two of the most nutritious parts of the grain are removed (the bran and the germ…read more about this in the “Understanding Grains” post), which gives the grain a longer shelf life.
  • Enriched grain – Since refining the grain takes out a great deal of nutrition, food scientists try to compensate by adding back in what nutrients they think are missing and most important. The problem is that nature is complex and food science isn’t easy…so the end result, enriched white flour or enriched white rice, is still not as nutritious as the original whole grain.

(Click image to enlarge chart)

(Click image to enlarge chart)

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50 comments to Nutrients in Refined vs. Whole Grains

  • Brooke P

    I’ve been playing around with subbing almond flour in recipes that call for white flour. Some work better than others, but I am curious now if almond flour is really better for me.

  • Sarah

    There is one very good reason they are both being enriched with folate an those super high levels. I agree nature does do it right but since they enriched folate in flour ect. the amount of babies born with neural tube defects (Spinabifida) has gone down significantly. Yes, you can find it in nature but as a whole this has been a large population health improvement. SO you can’t bash enriching completely (yes, I am a food scientist and proud)

    • Carly

      Although that is true, I think pregnant women would be getting all the folic acid they need if they were eating more healthy. Scientists started adding large amounts of folate because they realized these women were only eating out of boxes or packages. If they were eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods, they wouldn’t need to have any enriched food. Adding the folate is a solution, yes, and it has saved many lives and babies, but it doesn’t address the real problem.

  • Mary

    Important to note that all “whole wheat” is not really what it sounds like… It’s usually unbleached flour with germ and bran added back to it, but other nutrients still depleted. Once grain is ground it must be baked very quickly to retain nutrients. Grinding your own wheat is not as big a deal as it sounds work wise…

  • [...] a balanced diet. Read Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates for a more in depth look at carbs. See also, Nutrients in Refined vs. Whole Grains for a [...]

  • [...] between refined and whole grains. For more on this topic check out: Understanding Grains and Nutrients in Refined vs. Whole Grains. Product Example: Snyder’s Multi-Grain Pretzel SticksThese pretzels contain more refined white [...]

  • Lorrie

    Isn’t whole-grain full of gluten? Are we supposed to avoid gluten?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Lorrie. Nope, we aren’t a gluten free blog. The Leakes enjoy a wide variety of whole grains. Some, like brown rice, are gluten free. ~Amy

  • […] The vitamin section can be incredibly misleading. A loaf of bread made with factory enriched white flour can “appear” to have more vitamins than a loaf of bread made with whole wheat flour, and that’s because the vitamins featured are not even close to showing you the whole picture. […]

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