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What is refined? 

Refined refers to the process where foods are stripped of their coarse outer layers and original nutritional content. Commonly refined foods include refined grains such as white flour, white rice, and white bread. 

What is refined sugar?

Refined sugar comes from foods such as corn, sugar cane, and sugar beets. Refined sugar is the white sugar used in a cake or cookie recipe. Manufacturers also add sugar to processed, packaged foods. When refined sugar is processed, all of the vitamins, minerals and fiber are removed. Therefore, there is not much nutritional benefit to refined sugar, other than a source of calories from simple carbohydrates. 

What are refined grains? 

Refined grains are grains that are processed so the bran and germ are removed. These portions of the grain contain the majority of the nutritious aspects such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The lack of nutritional value in refined grains make them a less nutritious option compared to whole grains such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, amaranth, and quinoa. Examples of refined grains include white bread, white rice, and white flour. 

How much refined sugar is too much? 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommends limiting refined sugars, specifically added sugars, to less than 10% of total daily calories. This would mean eating less than 50 grams of refined/added sugar per day if you follow a 2,000 calorie diet. For reference, there is about 40 grams of refined/added sugar in a 16 oz. cola soft drink. 

How much of my diet can come from refined grains? 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommends consuming more whole grains vs. refined grains. Specifically, it is recommended to make half or more of all the grains in your diet whole grains. This is because whole grains are a better source of fiber in the diet, which most Americans need more of. Whole grains also offer more vitamins and minerals since they are minimally processed compared to refined grains.

Learn more about Refined Foods:

Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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