Health Gains With Whole Grains
“The recommended intake of whole grains is four-five servings a day or at least, half of the total daily grain consumption, should ideally be whole grains”
For centuries, whole grains (or cereals) such as wheat, rice, millet and barley have been harvested and consumed as staple foods in our diet. However, the advent of roller mills in the nineteenth century, brought with it, the dramatic surge in production of refined grains and a gradual but steady decline in whole grain consumption. Nevertheless, studies have found that the regular consumption of whole grains protects against deadly diseases like diabetes, cancer and many more.
The nutrient dense properties in the humble whole grains enrich it with the power to fight against these diseases. However, many are unaware about few facts, like how many servings are needed in a day to reap its benefits? And when it comes to nutritive value, a question that arises is, are all grains equal? If not, which whole grains are the best to eat?
The Whole Truth About Whole Grains
A grain basically consists of an outer bran covering (rich in fibre) followed by endosperm that contains 50-70 per cent starch and 15-20 per cent of proteins and finally the innermost germ, the part that sprouts and can grow into a new plant. Since, the process of refining involves removal of the bran and germ layer (refining imparts a longer shelf life and better taste and appearance), refined flours get stripped off the valuable fibre, vitamins and minerals and are nutritionally inferior.
Whole grains, contain a richer nutrient profile with an abundance of dietary fibre, essential amino acids, B vitamins and minerals and helps to lower risk of many diseases. The recommended intake of whole grains is four-five servings a day or at least, half of the total daily grain consumption, should ideally be whole grains.
The Three Major Components
Understanding food labels and choosing the healthiest grains from the hordes of ‘whole grain’ or ‘100 per cent wheat’ products on the shelves is also imperative. As per the American Association of Cereal Chemists, in a ‘whole grain, the three major components (bran, germ, and endosperm) must be present in the same amounts that occur in the grain’s native state.’
And for a whole grain food to meet the whole grain health claim standards, ‘the food must include 51 per cent whole grain flour by weight of final product and must contain 1 – 7 grams dietary fibre per 100 grams.’ Look for the word ‘whole’ preceding any grain and ‘whole wheat or whole grain’ as the first ingredient in the list.
Benefits Of Consuming Whole Grains
Increasing whole grain consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases and a better heart, better digestive health and overall health too.
Wards Off Heart Diseases
Dietary fibre includes soluble fibre (abundant in oats, barley) and insoluble fibre (present in whole wheat, rice and millets) that synergistically ensure that the bad cholesterol and the cardiovascular risk is lowered. Besides, whole grains contain plenty of B vitamins, heart protecting minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium and unsaturated fatty acids that aid in regulating hypertension and improving overall heart health.
Choose brown rice, millets (such as jowar, bajra and ragi) and oats, corn and whole wheat as they provide a steady flow of energy without sudden ebbs and spikes in blood glucose levels. Consuming more of refined food products, such as white bread, cakes, cookies and white rice, increases the glycemic load in the diet and may lead to impaired glucose response, insulin resistance and early progression to type 2 diabetes.
Reduces Cancer Risk
Whole grains are packed with phytonutrients such as lignans and other polyphenols that possess antioxidant properties, needed to combat inflammation and excess free radicals released in the body. Furthermore, the whole grains are rich in fermentable starches such as oligosaccharides and resistant starch that get acted upon by the intestinal bacteria and result in production of short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are linked to a reduced risk of cancers, especially colon and rectal cancers.
Aids Weight Loss
If you are looking for high volume, low calorie foods that can help you to lose weight without cravings, whole grains is your best bet. Studies consistently show an inverse relationship between body mass index and whole grain consumption – more whole grains in the diet means better satiety and adherence to weight loss regimes and a reduced risk to development of obesity and its associated complications.
Promotes Gastrointestinal Health
Whole grains help relieve common digestive troubles such as constipation, flatulence and acidity. They add bulk to the stools, speed intestinal transit and improve laxation. However, people diagnosed with gluten intolerance (or celliac disease), or irritable bowel syndrome must consult with a dietician and plan the amount and type of whole grains to be included in their diet.