Why Eat Whole Grains? Understanding Their Health Benefits

Grains seem to be having a tough time lately, with gluten being blamed by some for major health problems and new grain-free diets hitting the market every year. So it’s easy to wonder: why eat whole grains, as recommended by health authorities everywhere.

according to dr However, according to Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and author of two long-running studies, eating 70g of whole grains per day could reduce your risk of death by 5%. Each additional 28g serving reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 9%. The study also found that replacing refined grains and red meat with whole grains in equal amounts could potentially increase your lifespan by 8% to 20%.

There is so much to explain about whole grains that I’ve split this topic into two parts. Part 1 looks at why eat whole grains, and Part 2 looks at ways to eat more whole grains.

1. What are whole grains?

Grains, also called cereals, are the seeds of some grasses that are grown for food. Below are all of the grains you’re likely to encounter in stores, although not all in whole seed form (alternative names in parentheses):

  • amaranth
  • barley
  • Buckwheat (or Kasha)
  • Corn (corn, popcorn, corn)
  • millet
  • Oats (oatmeal)
  • Andean millet
  • rice
  • rye
  • sorghum
  • Spelt
  • teff
  • Wheat (triticale, semolina, seitan, farro, kamut)
  • Wild Rice

Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

A whole grain contains the whole kernel, ie:

  • The bran – the outer layer that contains vitamins, minerals and fiber.
  • The endosperm – the main part of the grain that can be ground into flour. Originally intended to nourish the embryo, the germ, as it develops into a new plant. Contains carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
  • The germ – the smallest part of the seed intended to germinate when planted. Contains proteins, vitamins, minerals and fat.

100% whole grain contains all 3 parts of the kernel (the bran, endosperm and germ). To obtain refined grains, whole grains are ground to remove the bran and germ. The end result is finer in texture and longer lasting. However, the process removes many nutrients, particularly fiber.

Whole grains can still be ground, rolled, crushed or cracked. As long as the whole kernel is present in the end product, it is still “whole grain”.

note – When we eat refined grains, our bodies are actually using nutrients to digest these nutrient-poor foods, leaving us poorer in nutrients than we were before we ate them!

note 2 – This is why you may come across the terms “fortified grain” and “enriched grain”. “Enriched grain” means that some of the nutrients lost during the milling phase are replaced, such as: B. Vitamins. “Enriched grain” means that some nutrients have been added that weren’t originally in the kernel.

2. Whole grains and fiber

As you can see from the nutritional information above, fiber is one of the main nutrients that needs to be removed during the refining process. It is the part of a plant food that the body cannot digest. As it moves through our digestive system, it absorbs water and helps the body eliminate food waste faster.

Higher consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart disease because it helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol and stabilizes blood sugar. It also fills you up and is an indispensable tool for weight loss and weight control.

There are 2 types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Good sources of insoluble fiber in grains include whole grains and popcorn (minus added butter or sugar), but also teff, spelt, and millet. Barley and oatmeal as well as amaranth contain soluble fiber. The body needs both equally for optimal health.

The current recommended intake of fiber ranges from 21 to 25 grams for women and 30 to 38 grams for men. However, the vast majority of us only get about half of that amount per day, thanks largely to our highly processed diets of refined grains and our low intake of high-fiber foods such as beans fruits and vegetables.

Check out my next post on How to Eat More Whole Grains to find out the easy way to increase your fiber intake.

3. So why eat whole grains?

The higher fiber content of whole grains is associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, but that’s not the only reason why eating whole grains is beneficial to our bodies. The bran and germ of grains also contain a whole host of phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, and proteins, all of which play a beneficial role. Let’s list some of the main benefits here:

1. They slow down digestion,

… stabilizing Your blood sugar and insulin levels. When ingested, refined grains immediately break down into glucose, much like pure sugar. This causes your blood sugar to spike and later drop again, leading to a sugar crash and cravings.

Whole grain products break down more slowly and keep you full longer.

2. They have been found to help with weight management

… by not reaching for the nearest sugar or starch solution, three servings a day is associated with a less belly fat.

3. So whole grain, help prevent type 2 diabetes

… through healthy weight control and stabilization of your blood sugar level. These benefits begin to kick in with as little as two servings a day (read my post on How to Eat More Whole Grains to find out what a serving is). This could be due to their high fiber and magnesium content, both of which are linked to better carbohydrate metabolism and insulin sensitivity.

4. Whole grains can help lower blood cholesterol levels,

… oats are a real champion in this category. Their higher soluble fiber content aids in the elimination of cholesterol by binding cholesterol and its precursors together in the digestive tract and excreting them quickly. The antioxidants contained in oats also play a role.

5. They can help lower your blood pressure,

…especially whole grain products with a high content of soluble fiber such as barley and oats. Their antioxidants help improve cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation.

6. Numerous studies on more than 20 types of cancer

… have found an association between eating three servings of whole grains per day and a reduced risk of cancer. This is particularly true for gastrointestinal cancers and cancers of the oral cavity, such as pharynx, esophagus and larynx.

Whole grains provide protective nutrients like fiber, antioxidants (particularly vitamin E and selenium), and phytochemicals that may help quell cancer cell growth, block DNA damage, and prevent carcinogens from forming.

And if the benefits of whole grains start with just two servings per day, research has shown that health improvements increase with each additional serving to reach the 3-4 servings of whole grains recommended daily Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The take-home message: whole grains for optimal health

How do you do that? There are many easy ways to identify whole grains in your diet and increase your intake. Read more about this in my next article on How to Eat More Whole Grains.

Thanks to Isabel Lira

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