This seed (which industry calls a "kernel") is made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
What is a whole grain?
All grains start life as whole grains. In their natural state growing in the fields, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant.
The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the kernel, and is tough enough to protect the other two parts of the kernel from assaults by sunlight, pests, water, and disease. It contains important antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber.
The germ is the embryo which, if fertilized by pollen, will sprout into a new plant. It contains many B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
The endosperm is the germ’s food supply, which provides essential energy to the young plant so it can send roots down for water and nutrients, and send sprouts up for sunlight’s photosynthesizing power. The endosperm is by far the largest portion of the kernel. It contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
WHOLE GRAINS ARE HEALTHIER
Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel. Refining normally removes the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm. Without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, along with at least seventeen key nutrients. Processors add back some vitamins and minerals to enrich refined grains, so refined products still contribute valuable nutrients. But whole grains are healthier, providing more protein, more fiber and many important vitamins and minerals.
Whole grains may be eaten whole, cracked, split or ground. They can be milled into flour or used to make breads, cereals and other processed foods. If a food label states that the package contains whole grain, the "whole grain" part of the food inside the package is required to have virtually the same proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm as the harvested kernel does before it is processed.
FINDING WHOLE GRAINS
Whole grains currently make up about 10-15 percent of grains on supermarket shelves. At a time when health professionals urge consumers to eat at least half of their grains as whole grains, it’s a challenge for consumers to find these healthier whole grains in a sea of refined grain foods. Use our Whole Grain Product Finder to make finding whole grains a snap.