Whole grain have been consumed for tens of thousands of years. But many modern diets, such as the Paleo diet, claim that eating grains is bad for your health. While refined grains are definitely linked to health problems such as obesity and inflammation, whole grains are another story. There are real health benefits that whole grains provide, including a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. This article lists the nine health benefits of whole grains, as well as those who might want to avoid them.
What are Whole Grains?
Grains are the seeds of herbs-like plants called cereals. Some of the most common varieties are corn, rice and wheat. Some seeds of non-herbaceous plants, or pseudocereals, are also considered whole grains. These include buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth.
Whole Grain Grains Have Three Parts:
- Bran: This is the hard, outer shell. It contains fiber, minerals and antioxidants.
- Endosperm: The middle layer of the grain is mainly composed of carbohydrates.
- Germ: This inner layer has vitamins, minerals, proteins and plant compounds.
The grains can be rolled, crushed or cracked, but as long as these three parts are still present in their original proportion, they are considered whole grains. Refined grains have eliminated the germ and bran, leaving only the endosperm. Although enriched refined grains have some added vitamins and minerals, they are not as healthy or nutritious as whole versions.
There are Many Types of Whole Grains, Some are:
- Integral rice.
- Whole Rye
- Wild rice.
- Wheat Berries
Products made from these foods are also considered whole grain foods. These include bread, pasta and some breakfast cereals. When buying whole grain processed products, the ingredient list should be read to ensure that they are made entirely of whole grains, and not of a mixture of whole and refined grains. You also need to pay attention to the sugar content, especially in the case of breakfast cereals, which often contain large amounts of added sugar. Seeing “whole grain” in the package does not automatically mean that the product is healthy.
Summary: Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain. There are many different types, including whole wheat and whole corn, oats, brown rice and quinoa.
1. They Have a High Nutrient and Fiber Content:
Whole grains provide many important nutrients. Here are some of the key nutrients found in whole grains:
- Fiber: Bran provides most of the fiber in whole grains.
- Vitamins: Whole grains are particularly high in B vitamins, such as niacin, thiamine and folate.
- Minerals: They also contain a good amount of minerals, such as zinc, iron, magnesium and manganese.
- Protein: Whole grains provide several grams of protein per serving.
- Antioxidants: Several compounds in whole grains act as antioxidants. These include phytic acid, lignin and sulfur compounds.
- Vegetable compounds: Whole grains provide many types of plant compounds that play a role in disease prevention. Among them are lignans, stanols and sterols.
- The exact amounts of these nutrients differ depending on the type of grain.
- However, to give you an idea of their nutritional profile, here are the key nutrients in an ounce (28 grams) of dried oats:
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Manganese: 69% of the IDR
- Phosphorus: 15% of the IDR
- Thiamine: 14% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 12% of the IDR
- Copper: 9% of the IDR
- Zinc and iron: 7% of the IDR
Summary: Whole grains provide a variety of important foods, including vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and other healthy plant compounds.
2. Decrease the Risk of Heart Disease:
One of the greatest health benefits of whole grains is that they decrease the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide. A 2016 review analyzed the results of 10 studies and found that three one-ounce servings of whole grains a day can reduce the risk of heart disease by 22%. In fact, eating up to seven ounces of whole grains per day was linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Another recent Spanish study examined the types and amounts of grains and other carbohydrates consumed by 17,424 adults and followed them for more than 10 years. Those who ate the highest proportion of whole grains in relation to their total carbohydrate intake had a 47% lower risk of heart disease. The researchers concluded that heart-healthy diets should include more whole grains and less refined grains. While most studies group all types of whole grains and make it difficult to separate the benefits of individual foods, whole grain breads and cereals, as well as added bran, have been specifically linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Summary: Eating whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease, especially when refining grains are replaced.
3. Decrease the Risk of Stroke:
Whole grains can also help reduce the risk of stroke. In an analysis of six studies that included about 250,000 people, those who ate the most whole grains had a 14% lower risk of stroke than those who ate the least amount. In addition, three compounds in whole grains – fiber, vitamin K and antioxidants – can reduce the risk of stroke. Whole grains are also recommended in the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, which can help reduce the risk of stroke.
Summary: As part of a heart-healthy diet, whole grains can help reduce the risk of a stroke.
4. Reduce the Risk of Obesity:
Eating foods high in fiber can help you fill up and avoid overeating. This is one of the reasons why high fiber diets are recommended for weight loss. Whole grains and products made from them give a greater sense of fullness than refined grains, and a large number of researches suggest that they can reduce the risk of obesity. In fact, eating three daily servings of whole grains was associated with lower BMI and less abdominal fat in a review of 15 studies that included almost 120,000 people. Another study that conducted the research from 1965 to 2010 found that whole grain cereals and cereals with added bran were linked to a modest lower risk of obesity.
Summary: A large amount of research over the past 45 years has suggested that whole grains are linked to a lower risk of obesity.
5. Lower the Risk of Type II Diabetes:
Eating whole grains instead of refined grains can reduce the risk of type II diabetes. A review of 16 studies concluded that replacing refined grains with whole grains and eating at least two daily servings of whole grains could reduce the risk of diabetes.
“In part, this is because whole grains rich in fiber can also help with weight control and prevent obesity, a risk factor for diabetes”.
On the other hand, studies have also linked whole grain intake to lower fasting blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity. This could be due to magnesium, a mineral found in whole grains that helps the body metabolize carbohydrates and is also linked to insulin sensitivity. It should be borne in mind that this refers only to prevention. If you already have type II diabetes, you may need to limit carbohydrate-rich foods such as grains (including whole grains), as blood sugar levels may increase.
Summary: Fiber and magnesium are two nutrients in whole grains that help reduce the risk of type II diabetes.
6. Help Healthy Digestion:
The fiber in whole grains can help to have a healthy digestion in a couple of ways. First, fiber helps to give stool volume and prevents constipation. Second, some types of fiber in grains act as prebiotics. This means that they help feed healthy and good bacteria in the intestine, which are important for digestive health.
Summary: Due to its fiber content, whole grains help healthy digestion.
7. Reduce Chronic Inflammation:
Inflammation is the root of many chronic diseases. Fortunately, some evidence suggests that whole grains may help control inflammation. In one study, women who ate the majority of whole grains were less likely to die from chronic inflammation-related diseases. In addition, in a recent study, people with unhealthy diets replaced refined wheat products with whole wheat products and saw a reduction in inflammatory markers. The results of these and other studies support the public health recommendations of replacing most refined grains with whole grains.
Summary: Eating whole grains regularly may help reduce inflammation, a key factor in many chronic diseases.
8. May Reduce the Risk of Cancer:
Research on whole grains and cancer risk have provided mixed results, although they are promising. A 2016 review of 20 studies on the subject reported that six of the studies showed a lower risk of cancer, while 14 studies showed no link. Current research suggests that the strongest anticancer benefits of whole grains are against rectal cancer, one of the most common types of cancer in men and women. In addition, some fiber-related health benefits can help reduce the risk of cancer. These include its role as an antioxidant and as a prebiotic. Finally, other components of whole grains, including phytic acid, phenolic acids and saponins, can also slow the development of cancer.
Summary: Whole grains can help prevent rectal cancer, one of the most common types of cancer.
9. Are Linked to a Reduced Risk of Premature Death:
When the risk of chronic disease is reduced, the risk of dying prematurely is often decreased. In fact, a 2015 study suggested that the intake of whole grains specifically reduced the risk of dying from heart disease, as well as from any other cause. That study used data from two large cohort studies: the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The researchers adjusted to other factors that could influence mortality rates, such as smoking, body weight and eating patterns in general. The result was convincing: each serving of an ounce of whole grains was linked to a 5% lower risk of death.
Summary: Whole grains are linked to a lower risk of dying prematurely from any cause.
Whole Grains are Not for Everyone:
While whole grains are healthy for most people, they may not be appropriate for all people at all times.
Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity:
Some grains contain gluten, a type of protein to which some people are allergic or sensitive. Having a gluten allergy, celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can cause a number of symptoms, including fatigue, indigestion and joint pain. Whole gluten-free grains, including buckwheat, rice, oats and amaranth, are suitable for most people with these conditions. However, some people have difficulty tolerating any type of grain and experience digestive problems and other symptoms.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
Some grains, such as wheat, are high in short chain carbohydrates called FODMAP. These can cause symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is very common.
There are other medical conditions that require some people to avoid fiber. Diverticulitis, an inflammation of small bags in the intestine, that needs to be treated with a very low fiber diet. Ironically, eating fiber can help prevent the development of this disease in the first place.
Summary: Some people have difficulty tolerating pimples. The best known problem is with grains that contain gluten.
How to Incorporate Whole Grains in Your Diet?
There are many ways to incorporate whole grains into your diet. Perhaps the simplest is to find whole grain alternatives for refined grains in your diet. For example, if white pasta is a common food in your pantry, find 100% whole wheat pasta (or other whole grain) to replace it. Do the same with the breads and cereals. Be sure to read the ingredient list to see if a product is made from whole grains. Look for the word “whole” in front of the types of grains. For example, you will want “whole corn,” not “corn.” Remember, if you simply say “wheat” (not “whole wheat”) it is not whole. You can also experiment with new whole grains that you may not have tried before, such as quinoa. Here are some different ideas to add a variety of whole grains to your diet:
- Prepare some cooked porridge with oatmeal or other grains.
- Sprinkle roasted buckwheat grain in cereal or yogurt.
- Snack with popcorn.
- Make polenta from whole grain cornmeal.
- Exchange white rice for brown rice, or for a different whole grain, such as quinoa or farro.
- Add barley to vegetable soups.
- If you bake, try using whole grain flours, such as whole wheat pastry flour.
- Use corn tortillas ground in stone, instead of white tortillas, in tacos.
Summary: There are many ways to add whole grains to your diet. Replacing refined grains with whole grains is a good way to start.
Take the Message Home:
- Whole grains offer a wide variety of health benefits.
- This is particularly true when refining grains are replaced.