We have all heard that whole grains are healthy. But what makes them better than the regular (refined) grains? Apparently, there is a whole bunch of science-based reasons why you should switch to whole grains only.
For a better understanding, let’s first cover some basics about the anatomy of a grain.
Naturally, a single grain has three main parts: the germ deep inside, that is surrounded by the endosperm, which is then covered with the bran. All of these parts have important functions related to both the growth of the plant and the preservation of nutrients. To illustrate, the bran works as a protection layer that holds important antioxidants, vitamins B, and fiber; the germ may later sprout into a new plant and it contains many B vitamins, protein, minerals, and healthy fats; the endosperm works as a food and energy supply and it is full of starchy carbohydrates, proteins, and some minerals and vitamins.
If a grain has all the three original parts, it is considered to be a whole grain.
If a grain is missing one or more of its three parts, it is not whole anymore and so is considered to be a refined grain.
For example, white rice and white flour are refined (not whole) grains, as they have their bran and germ removed. According to the Whole Grain Council, refining a grain removes 1/4 of its protein and as much as 1/2 to 2/3 of all the nutrients, which is exactly the reason why you should choose whole grains. (1)
Health benefits of eating whole grains
Whole grains are incredibly rich in various nutrients. It contains vitamins B1, B3, B11 (folate), and E (6, 7, 8), magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, protein, as well as various
antioxidants. Furthermore, it delivers healthy plant compounds (lignans, stanols, and sterols) that play role in preventing diseases (11). All of these valuable elements result in the following:
- Significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke, etc.). (3,4)
- Digestive health improvements (thanks to the fiber) (5)
- Reduced type 2 diabetes risk (13,14)
- Modest protection against colorectal cancer (12)
- Lowered inflammation, a key cause of many chronic diseases (15,16).
If you haven’t switched to the healthier (brown) option yet, the time to do so now is better than ever, considering the broad variety of choices we have in supermarkets nowadays. However, just like any other product, sometimes it may be hard to separate the good from less good.
How to choose the right product
Apparently, there are plenty of products in supermarkets that aren’t actually as ‘whole’ as their labels claim them to be. Harvard School of Public Health (2) provides a couple of tips so that you wouldn’t get into the inconsistent labeling trap.
The simplest way to make sure a product is high in 100% whole grains is by checking whether it is listed first or second in the ingredient list.
An even better option is to choose unprocessed whole grains: amaranth, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, kamut, millet, quinoa, rye, oats, sorghum, spelt, teff, triticale, wheat berries, wild rice, etc. There is so much goodness to choose from!
Have you switched to whole grains already? Share your experiences in the comments!