Whole grains benefit your heart and lengthen your life. It’s worth learning a little more about the food that has been a nutritional staple for thousands of years.
Whole grains are the hard, dry seeds of plants, and when you eat a whole grain, you get the fiber from the seed’s outer layer, plus all the vitamins, minerals, good fats, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. When a grain is highly processed, you are left with the calories, but have lost most of those beneficial qualities. Whole grains have been found to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol, as well as reduce chronic inflammation.
And yet, the typical American diet is much heavier on the highly refined grains, such as white rice, white bread, pastries, pasta, etc. Refined grains are often easier to cook and store, but they lack the same nutritional benefits, even if they have been fortified with added vitamins and minerals, and they are significantly lower in fiber. Fiber is the part of plant foods that your body doesn’t digest, and it may not be the most exciting part of your diet, but it is excellent at absorbing water and moving food waste through (and out of) the body. Fiber thus lowers blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, keeps you feeling full longer, and keeps your digestive track in tip top condition. Ahh – fiber… the under-appreciated workhorse of the food world.
You need not be perfect to reap the benefits of whole grains – just incorporating small quantities of whole grains into your diet can lead to significant gains for your health. According to Harvard Health Publications:
In two long-running studies, researchers found that people who ate the largest amount of whole grains—about two-and-a-half servings a day—were about 5% less likely to die of any cause than those who ate the smallest amount. (A serving equals 1 ounce or 28 grams.) For each daily serving, people were about 9% less likely to die of heart disease. They also found that replacing refined grains and red meats in your daily diet with an equal amount of whole grains can potentially lengthen life by 8% to 20%.
So how is the easiest way to go about this? It takes some knowledge. Brown rice is better than white, oatmeal you cook yourself rather than instant, etc. Breads and cereals can be a little trickier; look for the word “whole” before the grain, rather than be misled by other words such as organic, multigrain, enriched, or stone ground. You might have fun experimenting with ancient grains found in your local health food store or in the healthy section of your grocery store.
Most importantly, remember you don’t have to be perfect! You might be surprised at how flavorful and filling whole-grain options can be, so you begin to enjoy incorporating more them in your diet, and know you are getting the benefits, even if you still enjoy the occasional bagel or donut.
To learn more, check out Reaping gains from whole grains from Harvard Health Publications.
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