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What You Need to Know About Grains

Somi Igbene PhD ANutrMay 16, 2021

In my last post, I briefly mentioned the five groups that make up a healthy, balanced diet. Today, I’m going to expand on the grain group and by the end of the video, you will learn:

  • What grains are
  • Why you need them
  • Which are the best options

What are grains? 

Grains are the seeds from which new plants grow. These seeds contain nutrients that nourish the plants before their roots form. Grains exist as whole or refined grains.

Whole grains are those that contain all three parts of the intact grain, including:

  • The bran makes up the outer layers of grains and supplies antioxidants, b vitamins, trace minerals and dietary fibre.
  • The endosperm is the inner part of the grain. It contains most of the proteins and carbohydrates and only small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
  • The germ is the layer from which new plants sprouts. It contains B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals, antioxidants and essential fats.

Brown rice, red rice, black rice, corn, farro, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, steel-cut oats, and Kamut wheat are examples of whole grains.

Refined grains are so-called because they contain only the endosperm. Their bran and germ layers are removed during industrial processing.

As a result, refined products are stripped of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. White flour, degermed cornmeal, white bread and white rice are refined grain products.

Sometimes refined grains are enriched with b vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin) and iron that may be lost during processing.

Others are fortified with folic acid and fibre.

TIP: Read the ingredient list on the package of a grain product to find out if it is enriched, fortified or both.

What are the health benefits of whole grains?

 Whole grains are good sources of carbohydrates, your body’s main energy source.

They are also good sources of B vitamins that help your cells produce energy from the food you eat and folic acid, in particular, helps protect against birth defects.

Whole grains can lower cholesterol, prevent blood sugar spikes after a meal, and promote and maintain the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

They are also an abundant source of phytonutrients, particularly phenolic acids that have recognised antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Most of the phenolic compounds are bound to fibre so your body cannot use them directly.

The bacteria in your intestines absorb these phenolic compounds and break them down into more bioavailable, bioactive compounds, which are then released into your circulation where they exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities as well as interfere with cell signalling and gene regulation, in the gut and in other tissues.

This is a key reason why a healthy gut microbiome is important.

Which grains are the best to eat?

 Many of us eat enough grains (and perhaps more than we need), but most of the grains we eat are refined.

We tend to focus on white rice, white pasta, white bread, sugar-rich breakfast cereals, and highly refined foods like doughnuts, cakes and pastries.

Even when we try to choose whole-grain products, we end up getting confused by the deceptive marketing messages on the labels of grain products.

For example, a label that says a box of cereal is “made with whole grains” does not guarantee that the cereal is 100% whole grain. Terms such as multigrain are also confusing because these products may contain little to no whole grain.

Multigrain cereals may contain multiple grains, but many of them may be refined with just a small number of whole grains added to a substantial amount of refined grains.

Some “whole-grain bread’ are white bread in disguise because brown colouring is added to enriched white flour.

With all of the confusing buzzwords, your best bet is to choose natural, unprocessed products like

  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Farro
  • Freekeh
  • Brown, Red, Wild or Basmati rice
  • Rye
  • Wheat (if you tolerate it)

How many grains do you need to eat in a day?

The exact number of grains we all need to eat daily is individual. It depends on your age, weight, energy needs and preferences.

That said, try to make at least half of your daily grain choices whole grains for their fibre and micronutrient benefits. When you choose refined grains, try to include other whole foods to make up for some of the nutrients you may be missing by eating the refined grain.

And replace many refined-grain foods, especially those with more added sugars and saturated fats, with nutrient-rich, whole-grain foods.

That sums us the key points you need to know about grains. But, before I conclude this video, I’d like to address a common myth or misconception about grains.

If you’ve followed proponents of keto, paleo, and carnivore diets that demonise carbohydrate, you may have heard that grains are inflammatory and should be eliminated from your diet.

But is this true?

Are grains really inflammatory?

Most of the available scientific evidence suggests that grains have anti-inflammatory properties.

It is true that most of the evidence regarding grains are from epidemiological studies, but there are a few interventional studies that support these claims.

We don’t tolerate grains equally, and to make a blanket statement that grains are inflammatory is MISLEADING.

A set of grains may be beneficial for one person’s health, BUT the same set may be detrimental to another, and vice versa.

People with wheat allergies and intolerances must of course avoid all wheat products, but those without it don’t necessarily have to.

The key is to find the grains you can tolerate and stick with them. As you’ve learned thus far, grains contain beneficial and essential vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

You don’t need to eliminate grains from your diet. You merely need to select those that benefit and maintain your health and eat them in appropriate quantities.

To summarise,

  1. Grains are the seeds from which new plants grow. They exist either as whole grains or refined grains.
  2. Whole grains are better options because they are sources of essential micronutrients and phytochemicals. They also lower cholesterol levels, prevent blood sugar spikes after a meal and maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
  3. The best sources of whole grains are natural unprocessed foods like brown rice, red rice, farro, barley, rice, millet and oats.

I hope you’ve found this post useful.

If you would like to learn how to eat a healthy balanced diet that’s personalised to your unique needs and food preferences and helps you achieve your health goals, please schedule a 15-minute discovery call via the link in the lower right-hand corner, and it would be my JOY to help you.

Until my next post,

Eat whole, move your body and surround yourself with people and things that matter.

Be blessed!

-SOMI-

REFERENCES

  1. McRae, M. (2017) Health benefits of dietary whole grains: an umbrella review of meta-analyses. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 16(1), 10–18.
  2. Seal, C.J., Brownlee, I.A. (2015) Whole-grain foods and chronic disease: evidence from epidemiological and intervention studies. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 74(3), 313–9.
  3. Jones, J.J., and Engleson, J (2010) Whole grains: benefits and challenges. Annual Review of Food Science and Technology, 1, 19-40.
  4. Xu, Y., Wan, Q., Feng, J., Du, L., Li, K., Zhou, Y (2018) Whole grain diet reduces systemic inflammation: A meta-analysis of 9 randomized trials. Meta-Analysis, 97(43):e12995.
  5. Sang, S., Idehen, E., Zhao, Y., Chu, Y (2020) Emerging science on whole grain intake and inflammation. Nutrition Reviews, 78(Suppl 1): 2-28.
  6. Vanegas, S.M., Meydani, M., Barnett, J.B., Goldin, B., Kane, A., Rasmussen, H., Brown, C., Vangay, P., Knights, D., Jonnalagadda, S., Koecher, K., Karl, P.J., Thomas, M., Jonnalagadda, S., Koecher, K., Karl, J.P., Thomas, M., Dolnikowski, G., Li, L., Saltzman, E., Wu, D., and Meydani, S.N. (2017) Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomised trial has a modest effect on gut microbiota and immune and inflammatory markers of healthy adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 105 (3), 635–650.
  7. Tosh, S.M., and Bordenave, N (2020) Emerging science on benefits of whole grain oat and barley and their soluble dietary fibers for heart health, glycemic response, and gut microbiota. Nutrition Reviews, 78(Suppl 1):13–20.
  8. Zhu, Y., and Sang, S (2017) Phytochemicals in whole grain wheat and their health-promoting effects. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 61(7). doi:10.1002/mnfr.201600852.
  9. Koecher, K.J., McKeown, N.M., Sawicki, C.M., Menon, R.S., Slavin, J.L. (2019) Effect of whole-grain consumption on changes in fecal microbiota: a review of human intervention trials. Nutrition Reviews, 77(7), 487–497.
  10. dePunder, K., Pruimboom, L. (2013) The dietary intake of wheat and other cereal grains and their role in inflammation. Nutrients, 5(3), 771–787.

 

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