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Whole Grains: Why You Need Them

What are Whole Grains?

If a food is termed “whole grain”, it means that the food contains all the naturally-occurring nutrients as well as all the essential parts of the entire grain seed. The grain seed is made up of the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the outer skin of the seed also known as kernel. It has multiple layers and it contains antioxidants, phytochemicals, iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, fiber and B vitamins.

The germ is very high in B vitamins. It is the embryo of the kernel with ability to develop into a new plant. It is also rich in healthy fats, B vitamins, vitamin E, antioxidants, phytochemicals, protein and minerals. The endosperm takes the largest proportion of the kernel and mostly contains carbohydrates. It holds some small amount of minerals and B vitamins. Whole grains are one of the world’s healthiest foods. Regular consumption of whole grains has been associated with a great number of health benefits including a reduced risk of several health conditions.

Just a little of whole grains in your diet would go a long way to improving your health. Like most people, you are probably not eating as much whole grains as you should daily. It is recommended that adults should have at least 3 to 5 servings of whole grains per day and children should have between 2 and 3 servings daily. A lot of people, according to findings, eat less than a serving of whole grains per day or not at all.

What are Refined Grains?

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There are many possible explanations for the low intake of whole grains despite their health benefits. A possible explanation may be the fact that there are a lot of foods advertised as “whole grains” by their manufacturers, but which are in reality refined grains. The color “brown” is often associated with whole grains, but this isn’t always necessarily the case. A food may as well be brown in color from added coloring.

Refined grains are actually a lot more popular than whole grains. They have a smooth texture, they taste better and they have a longer shelf life, which is especially good news for manufacturers. However, refined grains are low in nutrients. High consumption of refined grains has been associated with an increased risk of a number of health conditions including diabetes and heart disease.

Refined grains, unlike whole grains do not contain all the components of the kernel. To produce refined grains, manufacturers strip the kernel of the nutritious bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm. With the bran gone, the grain is a lot easier to chew. The germ is also stripped for the purpose of longevity. The germ has healthy fat which shortens the life span of whole grain.

With the bran and germ stripped, a lot of nutrients are lost. Almost all the fiber, more than half of the B vitamins and about 90 percent of the vitamin E are gone. Of course, this has a lot of health implications. While some nutrients may be reintroduced through fortification, some other key nutrients cannot be replaced.

Why are Refined Grains Bad?

Overweight man checking his waist circumference

Eating a lot of refined grains puts you at a great risk of abdominal fat. This type of fat accumulates around your internal organs and predisposes you to diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A diet high in refined grains increases the risk of thickening of the arteries, a condition which also increases the risk of heart disease.

With the bran stripped from the grain, refined grain no longer possesses nutrients which protect the heart from disease. Refined grain is low in fiber and low fiber diet may cause constipation, weight gain and high cholesterol. It can also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

A lot of foods under the refined grains category are very high in sugar, salt and fat. They may also have chemicals, additives, artificial colorings and flavorings. Some of these foods include:

  • Biscuits
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Pancakes
  • Corn flakes
  • English muffins
  • Pastries
  • Grits
  • Pretzels
  • Pizza
  • White rice

Most noodles and pastas, breads, cereals and crackers are also refined grains.

What are the Benefits of Whole Grains?

Man with reduced belly fat

If you want to reduce your risk of chronic diseases, then including the right amounts of whole grains in your diet is one of the things you should do. Just by eating whole grains regularly, your risk of dying from any cause is reduced by 15%. There are great reasons why switching to whole grains and ditching refined grains is one of the best decisions you can make regarding your health. Here are some of them:

They Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Unlike refined grains, whole grains digest more slowly, preventing a spike in your blood sugar levels. Whole grains help to control the levels of your insulin and blood sugar levels. This can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. A study found that women who ate 2 to 3 servings of whole grains every day had their risk of type 2 diabetes cut by 30% compared to women who ate less servings or not at all.

The study also found that the higher the intake of whole grains, the lesser the risk of type 2 diabetes. Whole grains can also lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in your body. If you have high levels of LDL cholesterol, you have increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attack or stroke.

LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol particles around your body. The particles accumulate in the walls of the arteries, causing the arteries to become hard and narrow. This restricts the flow of blood through the arteries. Whole grains may also help to lower triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides is a risk factor of heart disease.

They Reduce the Risk of Constipation

The fiber in whole grains aids healthy bowel function. It is recommended that adults eats between 25 to 35 grams of fiber every day. Whole grains contain two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber are beneficial for your health.

Constipation, a common health problem is often caused by insufficient fiber in one’s diet. Whole grains help reduce your risk of constipation. Whole grains also contain lactic acid. Lactic acid promotes good bacteria in the large intestine and their activities help to improve digestion and enhance nutrient absorption.

They Help to Control Weight

Whole grains help you feel full for longer periods and this is largely due to its fiber content. Fiber digests slowly. Wole grains can help you deal with overeating. Whole grains are also low in calories, making them the right choice of food for maintaining a healthy weight. If you eat a lot of whole grains, you are less likely to gain weight over time than people who eat refined grains.

Eating whole grains can also help to reduce belly fat. Having too much belly fat has a greater impact on your health than having too much of other types of fat. Belly fat is the most dangerous fat in your body. Too much of it increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, some types of cancers including colon cancer and breast cancer, and dementia.

They Help to Reduce the Risk of Gum Disease

Woman smiling.

Including a lot of whole of whole grains in your diet may also help to protect your teeth and gums. You are less likely to have gum disease and other teeth problems if your diet is rich in whole grains. A study conducted on men between the ages of 40 and 75 showed that eating a lot of whole grains reduces the risk of gum disease by 23%.

They Lower Blood Pressure

Whole grains also help to lower blood pressure. A study found that men who ate more than 7 servings of whole grains in a week have their risk of high blood pressure cut down to 19% compared to men who ate 1 serving or none.

Whole Grain Foods

Here are some of the common whole grain foods:

In conclusion

If the idea of completely eliminating refined grains from your diet is somewhat daunting, then you can start slowly. Ensure that there is a source of whole grain in your plate every time you eat. Just a little can go a long way. With time, your taste buds would change and whole grains may become your favorite grain.