Are refined grains really the enemy? Here’s what nutrition experts want you to know

You’re in the grocery store trying to plan meals for your family — or yourself — for the week. Which kinds of grains should you be adding to your cart?

There’s plenty of fear-inducing information to be found online about apparent dangers of eating refined grains. Some articles and TikTok videos haphazardly suggest — without actual expert input — that eating them regularly can put you at a greater risk of developing serious diseases.

But does that actually match what nutrition researchers and registered dietitians have found? In the great debate over eating refined grains versus whole grains, here’s how diet experts recommend you navigate the bread aisle.

What are refined grains?

Refined grains are ones that typically have the bran and/or germ removed. That can “reduce the nutritional content and make them less satiating,” registered dietitian Miranda Galati tells USA TODAY.

Whole grains, on the other hand, “often contain more fiber, protein and micronutrients because the bran and germ are kept intact, which also makes them more filling and nutritionally balanced,” she says.

What are examples of refined grains?

Refined grains include foods such as white bread, white rice, crackers, cakes and other pastries. They have a longer food storage life, according to the Mayo Clinic, which often goes hand-in-hand with accessibility and affordability.

“​​The healthiest food in any category will depend on you, your budget, your culture, your health goals, and so much more,” Galati says. “It’s amazing to make more nutrient-dense choices when possible, but choosing the more processed or convenient option isn’t always a bad thing either. As a registered dietitian who wants you to build a healthy lifestyle that lasts, I’d recommend ditching the idea that there’s a healthiest version of anything.”

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Which grains are not refined?

Whole grain bread, oatmeal, barley and quinoa are all solid options for adding more whole grains to your diet, Galati says.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends making half of your daily grain intake whole grains. While eating more “minimally-processed grains” is a good thing, Galati says, “it’s not necessary 100% of the time.”

A 2019 review of studies published in Advances in Nutrition found that while scientific research does validate recommendations to eat more whole grains, the idea that you need to decrease consumption of refined grains actually isn’t backed by any “substantial body of published scientific evidence.”

In many cases, correlation has been confused with causation and led some to believe refined grains lead to a slew of diseases that shouldn’t actually be attributed to eating a normal amount of them.

In other words: White bread may offer less nutrients, but it isn’t the villain it’s sometimes made out to be.

“It’s all about balance,” Galati adds. “Choose minimally refined grains most of the time but make sure to leave room for the fun stuff to make your diet sustainable.”

What is the healthiest bread to eat? One is best, but you've got plenty of options.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What are refined grains? Refined vs. whole grain examples