Friday, June 8, 2018

6 Health Benefits of Whole Grains

We’ve all heard it before: whole grains are good for you. But how, exactly, can they benefit your health? Here’s a quick background on whole grains and just a few of the many reasons why you should be eating more of this wholesome food every day.
Photo by Abdallah Maqboul from Pexels

Whole versus Refined Grains
Grains are the seeds of grasses like oats, rice, and wheat, although some seeds of non-grass plants are also classified as a grain, like buckwheat and quinoa. Whole grains have all three parts of the kernel intact: the bran (the outer shell), the endosperm (the meaty middle layer), and the germ (the embryo, which grows into a new plant). They can be mechanically processed through rolling or cracking, for example, but as long as the bran and germ retain their original proportions, they are still whole grains.

Refined grains, on the other hand, only retain the endosperm after processing. This removes most of the nutritional value of the grain -- including vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and antioxidants -- which are all contained in the germ and the bran.

The What and How of Eating Whole Grains
The most popular kinds of whole grain based on global consumption are corn (also called maize), rice, oats, and wheat. Other kinds of whole grain include barley, millet, rye, and sorghum. There are also different sub-types or varieties; some of them include brown, red, and black for rice and farro and freekeh for wheat. Mixtures of whole grains have also created new products like triticale, which is a combination of wheat and rye.

You can consume whole grains in a variety of ways. Whole grain bread, cereals, and pasta are common examples. You can also cook them as is or incorporate them into various recipes. Popcorn, you may be surprised to know, is also a kind of whole grain; just avoid the microwaveable brands as those are laden with unhealthy fats. More recently, refreshing and delicious grain milk made from rice and oats have also emerged as healthy alternatives to dairy.

The Health Benefits of Whole Grains
Key nutrients found in whole grains include dietary fiber, B vitamins, protein, minerals such as iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc, and various antioxidants and plant compounds that work together to protect the body and prevent disease. With all of these nutritive components packed into a small speck, it’s easy to see why health experts recommend eating one to three servings of whole grains daily.

Here’s how all of these nutrients from whole grains do your body good:

  • They promote better digestion. The fiber content of whole grains helps regularize bowel movement and ward off digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, and inflammation of the colon. Whole grains also promote the “good bacteria” in the large intestine, which helps with better digestion and absorption of nutrients.
  • They help lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure. Studies have shown that whole grains can help lower triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and prevent the body from absorbing LDL or “bad” cholesterol. All of these are important factors in reducing the risk of developing heart disease and other vascular problems. 
  • They can help you lose weight. Whole grains are important components of weight-loss diets because they are fiber-rich and thus make people feel fuller for longer, preventing overeating. Researchers also found that people who eat more whole grains have better BMIs and less belly fat, which decreases your risk of diabetes, colorectal cancer, and even sleep issues
  • They aid in metabolism. The bran of whole grains is a good source of the B vitamins thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), and niacin (B3), all of which are crucial in the proper metabolism of fats and nutrients. Thiamin is also important in the production of new cells. Whole grains are also a good source of vitamin B9 or folic acid, which helps in the formation of red blood cells and is a critical nutrient that helps prevent birth defects in babies.
  • They lower cancer risks. Various studies show promising results regarding the potential of whole grains to reduce cancer risk, particularly colorectal cancer. Most of this stems from the fiber content of whole grains. However, whole grains also contain other components like phytic acid that helps suppress the growth of cancer cells.
  • They help reduce inflammations. There is some evidence that suggests whole grains can help reduce inflammations, a root cause of many chronic diseases like asthma and arthritis. Whole grains are also being studied for their potential to lower C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, which has been linked not just to inflammatory diseases, but also to type 2 diabetes and autoimmune conditions.

These are just a few of the positive effects of whole grains on your health. They may not be a viable option for everyone, like those who have celiac disease, for example, but by and large, whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet.

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