Refined - Enriched - Whole Grain - Multigrain: What's the difference?
"Enriched" sounds like it would be a good thing, right? Well, when it comes to grains, it's not.
Enriching a grain is an attempt to replace some of the nutrients taken out during refining. Refining grains extends their shelf life, but the bran and germ of the grain are removed during the process — and with them, almost all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals found in a whole-grain kernel. The B vitamins — thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid — and the iron that are removed during processing have to be restored to make the product "enriched." Sugars, salt, fats, and chemicals are also added to the finished product (but the heart-healthy fiber that was stripped out is gone forever).
Refined-grain products include white pasta, flour tortillas, white rice, and white bread. Nutritionally, they are mere shadows of healthful whole grains. You can think of refined grains as "fast carbs" — since there's practically no fiber to slow down their absorption, they cause your blood sugar to skyrocket, which leads to a spike in insulin levels. Over time, those repeated spikes can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. In fact, people who eat three servings of whole grains a day have a 30 percent lower risk of diabetes than people who never eat whole grains.
When you're shopping for whole grains, be a savvy consumer. Products that say "whole grain" can still have refined grains in them. In fact, they are only required to be 51 percent whole grain. So that's more like "half grain" — don't buy into it. What to look for? If you see "enriched" as the first word on the ingredient list, put the product back on the shelf. Only if "100 percent whole ___" is the first thing on the list, do you know exactly what you're getting.