What’s the problem with refined grains?

by | Jan 23, 2022 | health, nutrition, vitamins

The problem with eating a diet high in refined, processed grains is one way our bodies become nutrient-depleted.  Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are becoming more common in Americans as consumption of processed and highly refined grain products continues to rise.  These processed grains show up on the shelf as packaged donuts, pastries, crackers, pop tarts, mixes, pasta, bread, bagels, white rice, white flour, pretzels, breaded meats, cereals, pizza, and some types of granola bars to name only a few.  Many of these foods are also full of sugar and fat, creating an indulgent treat that stimulates craving more refined grain products. 

It’s no wonder we struggle: the marketing strategies are sleek, the products are incredibly appealing, the bliss point hard to refuse, and the convenience factor caters to our over-scheduled lives! Even the groceries stores participate in this grab-and-go mentality with ready-to-eat options created from highly refined grains at the entrance.

Consequences of Refining Grains

Firstly, we need to understand seeds from grasses are harvested to produce whole grains –wheat, oats, rice, quinoa –which contain the bran, endosperm and germ.  Stripped of nutrients and fiber during the manufacturing process, refined grains remove the bran, endosperm and germ. Secondly, refining grain removes key minerals like iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, and the antioxidant, fat-soluble vitamin E.  According to Harvard Health, “Refining wheat creates fluffy flour that makes light, airy breads and pastries, but the process strips away more than half of wheat’s B vitamins, 90 percent of the vitamin E, and virtually all of the fiber.”

While refining improves the shelf life of the grain and provides a necessary source of key nutrients, the loss of fiber, irreplaceable phytonutrients, and naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in the plant can be costly to one’s health. When we consume processed, refined foods on a regular basis, negative health outcomes ensue with increased risks of:

      • Cardiovascular disease 
      • Type 2 Diabetes 
      • High blood pressure & elevated cholesterol levels
      • Cancer
      • Rheumatoid Arthritis
      • IBD: Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis
      • Neurodegenerative diseases

How do we stop the nutrient loss?

Moving from a diet consisting mostly of refined foods into meals containing real, whole grains is a journey. Anyone who lives the typical American dream knows how difficult eating real food can be: managing one’s way through traffic to pick up and deliver the kids, hurrying off to work or volunteer activities, squeezing in a class at the gym, and managing to walk the dog before dark!  We end up eating on the run more often than we realize. In fact, convenience is a huge factor in making nutritional choices.

The best way to prevent nutrient losses from occurring due to over-consuming lots of indulgent refined foods– which are also laden with sugar and fat –would be to incorporate high-quality whole grains into the diet. 

  • Switch from white rice to brown rice
  • Instead of instant oats, try old-fashioned, sprouted oats
  • Look for the USDA Whole Grain Stamp on the packaging
  • Instead of white, bleached flour replace with whole wheat flour
  • Avoid packaged foods with sugar listed in the top 3 ingredients

Whole grain rice

Best whole grains to add to your meals?

  • Quinoa – add to salads, side dishes
  • Millet – use for puddings or soups
  • Wild Rice, Brown Rice, Brown Jasmine Rice, Brown Basmati
  • Sprouted, whole grain Oatmeal – try steel-cut or rolled
  • Barley – add to soups, salads, baked dishes
  • Amaranth – add to salads, side dish mixed with other grains

Reap the benefits of consuming 100% whole grains every day to improve your health and prevent nutrient losses.  Learn how to cook grains in advance and use them for easy additions to your meals.

Confused? Still have questions?  Contact us to learn more about how to move from eating refined grains to whole grains at Symphony Nutrition!


Harvard College. (2022).  Whole grains. The nutrition source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains

Swaminathan S, Dehghan M, Raj JM, et al. Associations of cereal grains intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality across 21 countries in Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiology study: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2021 Feb 3;372:m4948. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m4948.

Gaesser GA. Perspective: Refined Grains and Health: Genuine Risk, or Guilt by Association?. Adv Nutr. 2019;10(3):361-371. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy104

Anneser A, Thyr S. Refined to Real Food: Moving Your Family Toward Healthier, Wholesome Eating. Exeter, NH: J.N.Townsend Publishing; 2005