Whole Grains - Nutritional and Health Benefits
I have been looking forward to writing this post for some time now! This week’s nutritional and health benefits are about whole grains and, I am warning you, it will be a long post! 😊
I remember when I was young, as a school snack my mom was preparing for me and my sister sandwiches with cheese, tomato and some homemade bread - a super healthy recipe with whole wheat and whole grain rye flour. Of course, I hated it. It was not as fluffy, soft, spongy, and refined as the white one that all the other kids were eating. As I grew older, I started appreciating and actually liking its flavor and the fact that it is healthy. Now 97% of the times I eat whole grains and only on rare occasions I will have white bread (yes, I know, the French baguette is heavenly made! And pizza! Pizza dough should always be made with white flour).
What is a whole grain?
It is a grain of any cereal, minor cereal or pseudo-cereal that contains the endosperm, germ, and bran. Whole grains are either single foods, such as brown rice or ingredients in products such as buckwheat in pancakes. Other examples of whole grains include whole wheat bread (or pasta), barley, oatmeal, popcorn (!!!), millet, bulgur, etc.
Before I start naming the benefits of the whole grains it is very interesting to see their groups based on their processing:
- Whole grains: These are unrefined grains that haven't had their bran and germ removed.
- Refined grains: Refined grains are milled, a process that strips out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life. The refining process also removes many nutrients, including fiber.
- Enriched grains: In this case, some of the nutrients lost during processing are added back in.
- Fortified grains: Fortifying means that some nutrients have been added that don't occur naturally in the food. Whole grains may or may not be fortified.
Since we are on this, did you know that whole grain bread and "brown" bread are not always the same thing? Most of the times these two terms are interchangeable but there are some cases that dark-colored ingredients such as molasses or coffee have been added to give the color to white bread.
Now, let's see the benefits of consuming whole grains.
- Whole grains contain a big amount of fibers, which is one of the main reasons to consume them. There are two types of fibers - both beneficial for the health - the soluble and insoluble fibers. The fibers are digested slowly, which helps you feel fuller for longer. The high content of fiber in the whole grains keeps the bowel movements regular and prevents from causing inflammation, constipation, diarrhea, and pain in the colon. Whole grains contain lactic acid, which promotes “good bacteria” in the large intestine. These organisms aid digestion, promote better nutrient absorption and boost the immune system of the body.
Whole grains decrease major contributors to heart disease by helping prevent the body from absorbing “bad” LDL cholesterol, lowering triglycerides, and decreasing blood pressure. Basically, they lower the risk of heart disease overall!!!!
- Studies have shown that whole grains cut down on the amount of body fat and lead to its healthier distribution (and specifically away from the belly). In addition, whole grains in comparison with refined grains, help keep blood glucose at a lower level, which can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Whole grains are packed with vitamins (mainly B complex vitamins) and minerals. Thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin which are involved in metabolism, folic acid which helps the body form red blood cells and is critical for preventing birth defects in babies, iron which transports oxygen throughout the body and helps prevent anemia, magnesium which helps build the bones, selenium which protects against oxidation, and zinc which boosts the immune system.
It’s good to keep in mind that, although whole grains are super healthy, there are some cases that people should not consume them:
- Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity: Wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten, a type of protein that some people are allergic or sensitive to. Still, gluten-free whole grains, like buckwheat, rice, oats, and amaranth, are safe for most people with these conditions.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): IBS is a common disorder that affects the large intestine. Some grains like wheat are high in short-chain carbs that cause symptoms in people with IBS.
- Diverticulitis: Diverticulitis is an inflammation in the intestine that needs to be treated with very low-fiber diet.
Ok...it was a long post but an interesting one! To sum up, whole grains have many many many health benefits, and when you manage to switch from refined to whole grains you will feel the difference! 😉