Breads, rolls and other baked goods made with enriched flour have a pleasing soft, white texture — and they're easier to digest. However, when it comes to choosing the grains that make your meals, whole grain foods are the better choice. Whole grain foods give you the benefit of dietary fiber, a carbohydrate that enhances your health.
Whole grain foods are made from the entire grain kernel. Refined flour, on the other hand, is milled to strip the grain of its bran and germ. As a result, a lot of the flour's B vitamins and iron are lost during the milling process. Enriched flour is refined flour that has some of these nutrients added back in by the manufacturer. According to the Code of Federal Regulations, each pound of enriched flour must contain 2.9 milligrams of thiamine, 1.8 milligrams of riboflavin, 24 milligrams of niacin, 0.7 milligrams of folic acid and 20 milligrams of iron. Enriched flour may also contain added calcium. However, one thing that cannot be added back to refined grains is dietary fiber. Fiber is one feature of whole grain foods that gives them valuable health benefits.
The inclusion of fiber in whole grain foods is perhaps what most differentiates them from those made with enriched flour. Dietary fiber is the part of the plant that you cannot digest or absorb; it moves through your digestive tract largely intact. Fiber prevents constipation and keeps your bowel movements regular. It also decreases your risk for diverticulitis and hemorrhoids, states MayoClinic. A diet high in fiber may also reduce high blood cholesterol, decreasing your risk for heart disease.
One of the best ways to see how whole grain and enriched flour goods compare is to read the nutrition facts labels. Two slices of popular name brand white bread made with enriched fiber give you 140 calories and 2 percent of your daily value for dietary fiber based on a 2,000-calorie diet. They give you 30 percent of your daily value for calcium; 15 percent of your daily value for thiamine; 10 percent of your daily value for vitamin D, niacin and folic acid; and 8 percent of your daily value for iron and riboflavin. Two slices of whole grain wheat bread made by the same baked food manufacturer give you 130 calories and 16 percent of your daily value for fiber. You also get 15 percent of your daily value for calcium; 10 percent of your daily value for iron, vitamin D, vitamin E, thiamine, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, niacin, zinc and folic acid; and 6 percent of your daily value for riboflavin.
Whole grain foods are simply the better choice when you plan your meals. MayoClinic.com cites the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends that you make 50 percent of the grain foods you consume whole grains. Switching to whole wheat bread and other baked goods is a good starting point. However, you can also choose from a variety of novel whole grains such as wild and brown rice, bulgur, whole wheat pasta, spelt, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and rolled oats. Popcorn, a time-honored American snack, is also a whole grain food and a good source of fiber.