Typically, when something is enriched, it’s improved. But that’s not often the case with foods. Whether it’s enriched grains or flour, or other food items, “enrichment” does not necessarily improve the quality of what you’re eating.
A better way to describe enriched grains is refined. The USDA explains the process this way: Refined grains are milled, which is a process that removes the bran and germ (the parts that contain the nutrients and fiber). The process provides a finer texture and a longer shelf life. Most refined grains are enriched, which means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not re-added to enriched grains.
That’s why it’s important to check the ingredients list of all the foods you eat. So, let’s look at some of things in your diet you think are healthier than they might be—enriched grains or otherwise.
What is Made With Enriched Grains?
Remember that enriched means some or many of the nutrients that are lost during processing are added back in later. Since the fiber has been stripped from enriched grains (and not re-added) these processed foods will not keep your blood sugar levels steady. Fiber also keeps you feeling fuller, longer. So, by eating foods with enriched grains, you will be hungry again not long after you eat.
The types of foods that are usually made with enriched grains include:
- White flour
- White rice
- White bread
You’ll also find enriched grains in many:
Your body breaks down enriched grains more quickly, which typically raises blood sugar more quickly as well. This excess blood sugar has to be metabolized by the liver, and if there’s an excess of sugar, your body will store some of it as fat. It’s why enriched foods do not improve your diet.
Enriched Grains vs. Enriched Flour
In the same family as enriched grains is enriched flour. When you’re checking your ingredients list and see enriched flour, apply the same parameters to it as you would enriched grains.
It’s been stripped of the good stuff and some, but not all of it, re-added. You especially want to avoid foods that have enriched flour or enriched grains at or near the top of the ingredients list. Remember, the first five ingredients typically matter the most. Those are the ones that dominate the makeup of the product.
Foods commonly containing enriched flour include:
- Pie crust
- Chicken nuggets - breaded
Don’t be fooled into thinking wheat bread is a healthy choice. Look for 100 percent whole grain or whole wheat on the label, or the list of ingredients.
Skip Enriched Grains for Whole Grains
Why should you look for 100 percent whole grain or whole wheat flour on the label? You should always choose whole grains over enriched grains to keep your blood sugar levels steady and your diet full of fiber. Whole grains are the types of grains you’re looking for because they’re unrefined grains, so all of their nutrients are intact. In other words, they provide health benefits.
In addition to being a better source of fiber, whole grains contain important nutrients including:
Whole grains are either single foods, such as brown rice and popcorn, or ingredients in products, such as whole wheat in bread or buckwheat in pancakes.
Examples of whole grains include:
- Brown rice
- Bulgur (cracked wheat)
- Whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers
- Wild rice
Whole grain foods and the nutrients they provide will help decrease your risk for heart disease and other chronic illnesses. Try to remember this when you’re deciding between an enriched grain product and a potentially healthier choice.
Avoiding enriched grains is a great step towards a healthier diet. Limiting the amount of fast food that you eat is another. Our new interactive infographic "Scary Fast Food Nutrition Facts" explains the health risks eating too much fast food can bring about.