What whole grain foods are all about
Grains are plant predestined to be eaten. More specifically they are seeds of those plants. Their two main categories are whole grain and refined. The whole grain seed consists of three parts:
- Τhe outer layer or bran, rich in fibre
- Τhe inner part or germ, rich in nutrients and
- Τhe central starchy part known as endosperm.
The refined seed has lost its outer layer and germ during milling. But what do whole grain products offer?
Whole grains relative to refined ones contain more nutrients and fibre, of which they have both soluble and insoluble. Both types benefit our health. Hence by consuming them we cover our daily needs in fibre while eating less quantity than what we would have had we eaten refined products. And because fibre is digested more slowly we feel full longer. There is no shortage of benefits for our health too. By eating we absorb carbohydrates (digestion) which raise glucose in our blood.
Soluble fibre prolongs digestion, so glucose doesn’t elevate as much, and therefore blood sugar is better regulated. Another positive consequence is the reduction of “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Fibre favours-by affecting the softness and size of stool the bowel’s normal function, and hence digestion. Normal bowel function also implies a relative protection against other diseases in the same area like for eg. Piles. Soluble fibre is food for “friendly” bacteria in the intestine which protect the intestine’s wall.
Increased fibre can be found in brown bread, multigrain bread, and bread roll of Thessaloniki or politico, wholegrain pasta like brown rice, brown pasta strings, orzo, breakfast cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables. It is advisable to eat whole grains with every meal. You should check the label to find out if a product is whole grain but also to make sure its concentration in fibre is over 6 grams per 100 grams of product.
It has been observed that those who consume whole grains are more likely to maintain a normal body weight both in the near future and in the long run. This is probably due to the fact that those products are low in fat and because feeling full long after having a meal helps avoid eating between meals.
Whole grains contain B vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin and niacin, and minerals like selenium an antioxidant, zinc and essential fatty acids, iron, magnesium all of them important for a strong immune system as well micronutrients like copper.
Benefits for our health
By eating whole grains we indirectly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases because they lower total cholesterol, “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides. It has indeed been established that 2-3 or more portions of whole grains daily reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases in general and having a heart attack in particular. Furthermore, a meta-analysis showed that those who consume 2.5 or more servings of whole grain foods per day have 21% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to those who consume 2 or less servings per week.
Observations equivalent to the ones about cardiovascular diseases were made about type II diabetes. 2-3 whole grains portions per day reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes by 30% compared to those who consume whole grain foods rarely. Replacing white rice with whole grain foods, in the diet of people who eat 5 or more portions of rice per week, also dramatically reduces the risk of developing diabetes compare to those who rarely eat white rice.
The data about cancer are not as clear although it seems that whole grains do provide some protection against colorectal, breast and pancreatic cancer.
Finally a connection between mortality and wholegrain consumption was established. As we noted above whole grains reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases which in turn reduces-relative to cardiovascular diseases-mortality. However more recent findings suggest that more whole grains means lower overall mortality as well.
American Heart Association, Whole grains and fibre.
British Dietetic Association, Food Facts, Whole grains.
Harvard School of Public Health, Health gains from whole grains.
Harvard School of Public Health, More whole grains linked with lower mortality.
Mayo Clinic, Whole grains: hearty options for a healthy life.
National Nutritional Guide, Recomendations for adults.
National Health Service, Wholegrains not just porridge may increase life.