Great Grains of Health

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Whole grains are simply the entire kernel that comes from plant grains such as wheat, oats, rye, and quinoa. For most of all of time, people have eaten only the whole grain.  Until the end of the 19th century. That's when the milling technique was developed to strip away the bran and germ and produce refined flours (post 1/17/11.)

An estimated 80% of Americans eat less than 1 serving of whole grains each day. Is this a problem? Research has been looking at the possible health benefits in eating whole grains vs. processed grain.


Whole grains are packed with fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and most likely many things that have yet to be identified that are important for health. Processed grains produce refined flours that have lost almost all of the fiber found in the bran, 90% of the vitamin E (germ), and over half of the B vitamins (also found in the germ.) The resulting refined flour is a source of starchy carbohydrate, and that's all.

Eating Whole Grains:

  • Reduces risk of constipation and diverticulosis. The bran is insoluble fiber that helps push waste through the digestive tract easier and quicker.  This reduces pressure inside the intestines and results in less constipation. Australia recently tested an ad campaign to encourage the consumption of whole grain bread: "Bread, it's a great way to go!"  In 4 months, the populations that were targeted had a 58% increase in whole grain bread sales and a 49% decrease in the sale of laxatives. Fantastic results! Data from the Iowa Women's Health study indicates that women eating more whole grains lowered the risk of developing diverticulosis, and another study found that men eating over 32 grams of fiber daily were much less likely to have diverticular disease than those eating less that 13. 
  • Lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes. Many studies have concluded that eating 2-3 servings of whole grains each day reduces the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD,) heart attack, and stroke. Eating more whole grains appears to reduce some risks factors for CVD: total cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides and insulin.  Studies conclude that people who eat at least 2-3 servings each day are much more likely not to have CVD. One study notes that people who ate fewer than 2 servings of whole grain each week were more likely to experience CVD. 
  • Do whole grains reduce the risk of cancer?  In animals, researchers have found increasing intake of wheat bran decreases colon cancer. So far, human studies have come in with mixed results.  One study found that eating the whole grains--not just refined flour with added fiber--seemed to give a moderate protection against colorectal cancer. More long term studies need to be done.
It's clear that whole grains are a nutritional powerhouse. By eating at least 3 servings each day, you'll have better odds of avoiding many of these diseases.  

It's important to use whole grains, not just refined grains with added fiber. These days, you can find all sorts of breads, cereals and crackers, that are made from refined white flour with fiber added to make the nutritional data look better.  Don't be fooled. Look at the list of ingredients to make sure "whole" is part of the first ingredient listed.  Remember, refined grains no longer contain the whole super hero package that supplies all those wonderful naturally occurring antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. 

This week, make a list of all the whole grains you truly enjoy.  Shop from this list each week making sure to have plenty on hand to eat.  And then, try to a new whole grain occasionally---have some fun with it. Try a new bread, try quinoa or  instant brown rice. If you your family aren't fans of whole grain pasta, try the pasta the 50-50 first. It takes time to develop a love for the rich, nutty flavors that come with whole grains. Not everything you eat has to be whole grain. Be patient but be persistent in your quest to get at least 3 servings of whole grains in each and every day!

Fire Up!! You Can Do This!

What are some of your favorite whole grains and how do you use them?