Supermarket shelves are packed with breads claiming to as be “whole grain”. We all know that we should consume whole grains and not the refined grains. But are they all healthy?

Studies show that eating whole grains instead of refined grains lowers the risk of many chronic diseases. So what does whole grain means? Whole grain means that all parts of the grain are used, including the nutritious germ and bran. They are higher in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which helps to keep you feel fuller. They are also richer than refined grains in anti-oxidants and phytochemicals. In general, the phytochemicals in whole grains, including lignans, phytoesterols, and polyphenolics, help protect against cancer. The fiber found in whole grains may ferment in the gut, lowering colonic pH (a higher colonic pH is a cancer risk). It’s been demonstrated that fiber, especially soluble fiber, can reduce serum lipids, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol—all factors in heart disease development.

In the grain-refining process, most of the bran and some of the germ is removed, resulting in loss of dietary fiber and loss of vitamins and minerals.

Whole wheat is one kind of whole grain, so all whole wheat is whole grain, but not all whole grain is whole wheat. The whole grain also encompasses other grains like brown rice, oats, barley, buckwheat, bulgur and corn. And the term “multi-grain” simply means ‘more than one grain’, but not necessarily ‘whole’ grains.

So how could you get the whole grain or whole wheat in your diet? Start by checking the ingredient list for the word ‘whole’ before the names of grains, and look for products that list a whole grain as the first ingredient, indicating that it contains more of this than any other ingredients. For e.g., to make sure that the bread you are buying is made from whole grains, look at the label: whole wheat flour or whole grain flour should be among the first ingredients listed. However, every food item labeled as 100% whole grain doesn’t mean that it contains only whole grains. Other than grains, they also contain sugar, malt syrup and invert sugar.

So, next time while shopping, check the ingredient list and nutrition label to see what you’re really buying. Limit the consumption of food products that contain refined grains added with solid fats, sugars and sodium. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.