September marks the beginning of fall, back to school, football season, and… National Whole Grains Month! There is no better time of year than now to celebrate the many health benefits whole grains have to offer.
1. THE WHOLE PACKAGE
Anatomically speaking, there are three major components to a whole grain: the bran (the fiber and antioxidant-rich outer layer of the grain), the germ (packed with essential oils, B vitamins, minerals and some protein), and finally, the endosperm (the carbohydrate holding center).
Together all three of these components work in symphony to deliver some pretty powerful health benefits. In contrast, when a whole grain is processed, the germ and the bran are stripped away from the grain, and what is left is a carbohydrate-dense endosperm without fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, or minerals. What was once a perfectly packaged nutrient-rich food, has become a nutrient-poor, empty carbohydrate. This is what is known as a “refined” grain, such as white rice or white flour.
2. SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
With the fiber-rich bran still present, whole grains are digested much slower than their refined counterparts. Think about the chewier, nuttier texture of brown rice versus white rice. This texture slows your eating pace because you actually need to chew your food more thoroughly before swallowing, thus prevents overeating. The muscular walls of our stomach have to work extra hard to continue to mechanically break down the fibrous bran before we can even begin to chemically digest the internal components of the grain.
3. FILLING AND STABILIZING
Thanks to their soluble fiber, whole grains actually absorb the gastric juices in our stomach and begin to swell. This swelling elicits a very satiating feeling of fullness that no refined grain can match.
The fiber in whole grains helps slow down the digestion process, as well as the absorption of sugar across our intestinal wall and into our bloodstream. Meaning, the speed at which the carbohydrates enter our bloodstream is reduced, causing a slower and less dramatic spike in your blood sugar levels and thus, a more controlled insulin response. This translates into longer lasting energy, with no peaks and crashes often experienced when consuming refined grains. Steady blood sugar and insulin levels also translate into more stable mood and energy levels, with less susceptibility to cravings.
4. SMOOTH SAILING
In addition to soluble fiber, whole grains also contain another type of fiber, called insoluble fiber. This type of fiber acts as a broom, sweeping through your digestive tract, keeping it clean, and keeping things moving. Hello, regularity!
5. HEART-HEALTHY AND DISEASE-FIGHTING
Whole grains are effective in reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, decreasing triglycerides, and supporting healthy weight management, so it’s no surprise that study after study reveals solid scientific evidence demonstrating whole grain consumption is correlated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Whole grains also contain disease-fighting, health-protecting phytochemicals. While refined grains have no allies to offer you, whole grains supply your body with an army of warriors. Phytochemicals are recognized for their ability to combat oxidation and reduce inflammation, and since inflammation has been linked with essentially every chronic disease out there, the more phytochemicals you can include in your diet, the better!
6. SPROUTING POWERS
With the bran, germ, and endosperm all intact, whole grains are equipped to give life! When whole grains are soaked, rinsed, drained, and kept in a moist environment, they germinate and become what is called a sprouted grain. Sprouted grains have been found to have a higher concentration of protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, and appear to be easier to digest.
7. EXPLORE A WHOLE NEW WORLD
An effort to consume more whole grains opens the door to a worldwide culinary journey! From farro to millet, to amaranth to buckwheat, there are so many whole grains out there that are worth exploring and offer a variety of shapes, textures, and flavors! I suggest you choose one new whole grain to try each week!
Pro tip: Watch out for distracting marketing words like “multi-grain” or “stoneground.” Instead, check out the ingredient list and search for the word “whole.”
Adapted from the original article.
Lindsey Kane, MS, RD, LDN is a San Francisco-based Registered Dietitian helping others live a stress-free, balanced, and thriving life. By getting to know her clients inside and out, Lindsey identifies the opportunities within their everyday lifestyle to integrate subtle changes that create lasting, impactful results. Learn more at Bite For Change.