We always hear about “whole grains” but what exactly is it? How different is it from “refined grains”?
Whole grains are any cereal grains that still have its parts intact. It has the endosperm, cereal germ, and bran, as opposed to refined grains that only have the endosperm. Whole grains include oat, barley, wheat, brown rice, rye, millet and quinoa. When whole grain is ground, a product called whole grain flour is made, also commonly called whole flour. This can usually be found on labels of bread, pasta and other flour products.
Whole grains are a good source of protein and carbohydrates. This can also be true of refined grains, but why is whole grain so much more recommended for health than its counterpart? This is because whole grains retain much of the nutrients that can be found in the germ and the bran, components which are lost during milling in refined grains. Foods that are made from whole grains are rich in antioxidants and minerals. Not only that, whole grain foods also have concentrated amount of selenium and vitamin E.
To illustrate the difference in nutritional value, let’s take as an example a slice of white bread and a slice of whole wheat bread. It is important to note that the two breads will essentially contain the same amount of calories but differ in nutritional value. A slice of white bread will contain about 66 calories while a slice of whole wheat bread will contain 69. About the same, however, the whole wheat bread will contain 3.6 grams of protein versus the white bread which will only contain 1.9 grams of protein. Moreover, white bread will only have 0.6 grams of fiber compared to whole wheat’s 1.9 grams of fiber.
Whole grains are especially beneficial to people suffering from diabetes. This is not because their glycemic index or the level of glucose contained is lower, but because the closer a grain is to its original form, the slower the digestion of starch in the human body. This prevents fluctuations in blood sugar that can lead to hyperglycemia, which can also lead to decreasing insulin resistance over time. The better a diabetic manages his blood sugar levels, the lower the risk of complications from diabetes.
Whole grain consumption has also been linked to lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels, and lower triglyceride levels in the blood. This means that there is a lower risk of heart diseases and stroke, as much as a 26% decrease. It has also been shown to have beneficial effects in lowering hypertension or high blood pressure, obesity, as well as some types of cancer.
Having illustrated all these benefits, whole grains should be the grain of choice. When shopping for breads, pastas, cereals or other food products, check that label to make sure that you are making the healthy choice. Not only are whole grains better for your body, they taste and have a texture that is so much better too.