Benefits of Whole Grain Foods

A whole grain diet has many dietary benefits and few drawbacks

Benefits of Whole Grain Foods

Benefits of Whole Grain Foods

Benefits of Whole Grains

  • An excellent source of starchy carbohydrate and dietary fiber.
  • A good source of niacin, riboflavin, other B vitamins and iron.
  • More economical than meat, fish, and other diet staples.

In this era of the low-carb diet, the health benefits of grains—whole grains, that is—are sometimes overlooked. Since prehistoric times, grain products have been one of the basic foodstuffs of agrarian societies. Almost every culture has a staple grain around which its cuisine is centered.

Today, thanks to modern agricultural techniques and efficient transportation, we can sample a huge variety of grain products. Despite this proliferation of grains from around the world, we still tend to make the greatest use of our native wheat, which is ground into flour and made into bread and other baked goods. To a lesser extent, we also consume corn, rice, oats, barley, and millet, and many exotic grains.

Whole grains are rich in complex carbohydrates,fiber, and many vitamins and minerals. They are also very low in fat, and when eaten in combination with beans and other legumes, grains are a good source of complete protein.

Nutritionists urge us to eat more grain products as a healthy substitute for high-fat foods, and recommend we include plenty of grain based starches, such as breads, cereals, pasta, and rice in our diets, along with dried beans, peas, and other legumes.

Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Cancer Protection

There is a growing awareness of the importance of the quality, as much as the quantity, of grains in the diet. An increased consumption of whole grains reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Data from the Physicians Health Study, in which more than 86,000 male physicians participated, showed a significant reduction in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and death from all causes in the men eating the greatest quantity of whole-grain cereals compared with those of the men eating the fewest servings of whole-grain cereals.

The Iowa Women's Health Study followed almost 35,000 women aged 55 to 69 and found that the more whole grains eaten, the lower the risk of dying from heart disease. Another study found that adults with the highest intake of whole grains were 35 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest intake. There is also growing evidence that eating whole grains instead of refined varieties can reduce your risk of developing cancer.

Whole Versus Refined Grains

Many of the valuable nutrients in grains are contained in the germ and outer covering that are removed during refining.

In contrast, products made from whole grains retain most of their nutritive value; their high fiber content also adds texture and is filling.

Refined grain products, including flours, breads, and breakfast cereals, are fortified with iron, thiamine, riboflavin, folate and niacin.

Despite the additions, refined products still have less vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber than whole-grain products.

Whole grains contain B vitamins, vitamin E, and an assortment of phytochemicals including lignans, saponins, and plant sterols.

When shopping for whole grain breads and cereals, read labels carefully. Look for the words "whole-wheat flour" as the first ingredient. A product simply labeled "wheat flour" is actually white flour.

- Excerpt from "Reader's Digest's Foods That Harm Foods That Heal: An A-Z Guide to Safe and Healthy Eating"

Whole Grain Recipes »