What’s So Great About Whole Grains?
Learn about the health benefits of whole grains and the best ways to add them to your diet
While some modern fad diets try to avoid grains altogether (grains are carbs after all), the truth of the matter is that grains are an essential part of a balanced diet. And, according to numerous experts, whole grains are the best type to eat.
Whole Grains and Whole Grain Foods
“Grains” are the seeds of grass-like plants or cereals, (like wheat, oats, corn, millet, rye, rice, barley, and wheat berries) as well as pseudocereals (like buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa). These grains have three layers:
- Bran: The hard outer shell, containing lots of fiber
- Endosperm: The middle of the grain, mostly carbs
- Germ: The inner layer, packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein
When all three layers of the grain are present in their original proportions, you have a whole grain food—even if the grain has been cracked, rolled, crushed, or otherwise processed. But when the bran and germ have been removed, you have refined grains, which are not as healthy or nutritious.
6 Health Benefits of Whole Grains
- They’re nutritious: Whole grains are high in fiber, vitamins (especially B vitamins), minerals, protein, and antioxidants.
- They reduce the risk of diabetes: Whole grains have a lower glycemic index than refined grains, meaning they are digested more slowly and are less likely to cause blood sugar spikes. Plus, they contain magnesium, which helps improve insulin sensitivity.
- They’re good for your heart: Eating a higher amount of whole versus refined grains is associated with reduced risk of heart disease. According to one study, three 1-ounce servings of whole grains per day can reduce your risk by 22 percent.
- They help prevent obesity: Because they contain more fiber, whole grains help you feel full after eating. This means you are less likely to overeat and gain weight. Research has linked three servings a day with reduced belly fat.
- They reduce inflammation: While foods made with refined flour tend to promote inflammation, whole grains and whole grain foods fight inflammation. This is important because inflammation is associated with a whole host of chronic diseases.
- They’re good for your digestion: The fiber in grains helps the digestive process in two ways. It provides bulk to prevent constipation, and it helps feed the “good” bacteria in your gut.
How to Get the Most from Your Whole Grains
Switching from foods made with refined flours to ones made with whole grain flours is an excellent first step towards getting more whole grains in your diet. However, the absolute healthiest way to eat whole grains is on their own—rather than as part of a processed food. Why? Several reasons. First of all, processed whole grain foods often contain additives, as well as extra sugar and salt that you don’t necessarily want to add to your diet. Secondly, some “whole grain” foods are actually made with a mix of whole grain and refined flours, so you may not be getting all the nutrition you expect. And finally, even when a food is made with all whole grain flour, the three parts of the grain may not be present in their original proportions.
Preparing whole grains for yourself is easier than you think. You probably already know how to cook rice or oatmeal. Cooking other grains is a similar process. Because cooked grains store really well, you can easily make up a big batch at the start of the week and then refrigerate it or even freeze individual portions that will be ready for you to use when you need them. You can toss cooked grains with salads, mix them in with cooked veggies, use them when you bake, mix them into bean patties, or serve them as a side dish. Or just eat popcorn for a snack!
If you would like to learn more about healthy eating and other steps to support healthy aging, contact Renew Youth today.