Whole grains can claim a wide array of health benefits that many foods cannot. Not only do whole grains contain fiber and traditional nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium and iron, but also numerous disease fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants.
More and more, consumers know that fruits and vegetables contain these disease fighting agents, but what they do not know is that whole grains contain these important chemicals much less that they often contain more than most common fruit and vegetables. Further, some of the antioxidants in grains are not found in fruits and vegetables.
Although whole grain foods are loaded with fiber, they are a great source of other health-enhancing compounds as well.
* Antioxidants, thought to protect against heart disease and cancer.
* Resistant starch, thought to play a complementary role to fiber in the prevention of some bowel diseases, reduction of bood cholesterol levels, and control of bood glucose.
* Phytoestrogens, thought to protect against breast and prostate cancers, and also may help with menopausal symptoms.
* Magnesium, now thought to play a vital role in maintaining healthy glucose metabolism.
* Vitamin E. which has been reported to be associated with reduced risk of diabetes.
* Vitamin B6 and foic acid, which may help lower blood levels of homocysteine, now considered a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes; folic acid also may help reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease and childhood leukemia.
* Other phytochemicals, which may play a wide range of roles in preventing chronic disease.
Studies have shown that people who eat whole grains have lower body mass index, lower total cholesterol, and lower waist-to-hip ratios. Various large epidemiological studies on a variety of different populations note that people who eat three daily servings of whole grains have been shown to reduce their risk of heart disease by 25-36%, stroke by 37%, Type II diabetes by 21-27%, digestive system cancers by 21-43%, and hormone-related cancers by 10-40%. Furthermore, in intervention studies where whole grains became a regular part of the diet, people showed improved blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.
To put it simply, worldwide whole grain intake is dismal across populations and cultures. While traditional diets in some parts of the world may utilize whole grains (like the use of whole grain corn to make tortillas in Mexico), when more Westernized habits are adopted, diets often lose their whole grain component. In western cultures, those who are more highly educated and wealthy are more likely to eat whole grains, but consumption is still low regardless of demographics. Fewer than 7% of Americans get the three recommended servings a day. Worldwide, the story isn’t much better.
What Counts As A Serving?
* 1 slice of bread
* 1 oz. Or ½ cup of ready-to-eat cereal
* ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
* 1 tortilla (6” diameter)
* 6 saltine crackers
* ½ bagel or English muffin
Feel free to enjoy oversized bagels you can buy at a bakery or a plate of pasta from an Italian restaurant – just remember that they can count as 2 to 5 servings from this group.
How Do I Add Grains TO My Diet?
* Rearrange your plate. Give grains the spotlight and plan the rest of the meal around them.
* Keep a “grains stash” handy to help curb those midday hunger pangs. Keep a bag of low-fat grain snacks nearby, such as pretzels, graham crackers, or your favorite cereal.
* Go international. Besides the usual rice and pasta, try “ethnic” grains such as quinoa, amaranth, bulgur, couscous, barley, oats, buckwheat, and rye, which have a lot to offer in terms of taste, texture, and nutrition.
* Mix different types of pastas together, such as whole grain, spinach, and regular pasta.
* Add some crunch to your soup, salad, or yogurt. Sprinkle granola, wheat germ, or crushed, flaked cereal on top.
* Have a sandwich – the official meal to go – by using different types of breads, from white, rye, and whole wheat, to tortillas for wraps and pitas for handy pocket sandwiches.
In many studies, the maximum benefit of whole grains is seen with adding just one serving of whole grains per day. In one study of 86,00 male physicians, whose who consumed at least one serving per day of whole grain breakfast cereal had a 20 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to men who rarely consumed breakfast cereal. Even men who consumed only a few servings per week had an 18 percent lower risk. So it does not take much to get the benefit.
Similarly, data from the Nurses’ Health Study show that in increase in cereal fiber intake of just 5 grams/day might reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in women by 37 percent. This amount of fiber can be found in a bowl of cereal.
Benefits also come fast. Within a matter of weeks, sometimes even days, increased whole grain consumption improves insulin and glucose control, and lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.
Because the evidence is so strong, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the following health claim that allows food companies to promote the heart disease and cancer-fighting benefits of whole grains: “Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods, and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”
Something as simple as adding a whole grain serving is all it takes. Or, you could try a whole grain breakfast cereal a few times per week, and a whole grain muffing or English muffin on the other days. Actually, breakfast is a great way to start out the day with whole grains. A recent study showed that eating cereal for breakfast was associated with significantly lower body weight as compared to eating meats and/or eggs, or skipping breakfast altogether.
What is considered a “whole grain?”
Whole grain products are made from the entire grain kernel with nothing removed. For instance, whole wheat flour, wheat kernels (berries), some breakfast cereals, barley, brown rice, and oatmeal are considered whole grains.
Are all brown breads whole grain?
Not necessarily. Read the ingredient label to be sure. If the bread label specifically only says “whole wheat flour,” it is 100 percent whole wheat. Some brown breads are part whole wheat and part enriched flour with caramel coloring added. They are all nutritious, but some will have more dietary fiber and nutrients than others; and each is designed to satisfy a variety of taste buds.