SHOULD I BE AVOIDING WHOLE GRAINS?

Are you confused by whether you should or should not be eating whole grains? Let’s talk about some of the misconceptions surrounding them.


BY: KALEIGH MCMORDIE, MCN, RDN

Somewhere along the way, whole grains got a bad reputation. It’s unfortunate because whole grains have a number of health benefits and are delicious! With so many more types of grains out there than just wheat and oatmeal, I’m here to tell you a little bit about these nutritional superstars that are out there just waiting to shine!

What are whole grains, exactly?

Whole grains are kernels or seeds of their plants that contain all three of their edible components: the bran (outer skin), the germ (the embryo), and the endosperm (the middle and largest part of the grain). When grains are refined, the germ and bran are usually removed. This strips the grain of nutrients because the germ and bran contain most of the fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Whole grains use all three portions of the grain, meaning you get all of the healthy benefits.

So what kinds of grains are whole grains?

With so many whole grains out there, the more popular ones lately are quinoa, brown rice, and oats. But there are many more, including:

  • Bulgur
  • Rye
  • Wheat berries
  • Wild rice
  • Farro
  • Amaranth
  • Kamut
  • Teff
  • Spelt
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn kernels

Corn kernels? Yep. Dried corn kernels are considered a whole grain, which means popcorn and cornmeal (hola, tortillas!) are good sources of whole grains. See? Whole grains are delicious!

What are the benefits of including whole grains in your diet?

Besides being tasty, whole grains contain protein, fiber, B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, copper, and vitamin E. They also contain phytochemicals, the same disease-fighting compounds found in other “superfoods” like blueberries, pomegranate, and green tea. Studies show that eating just 3 servings of whole grains a day can lower the risk of coronary heart disease, cancer stroke, and diabetes, and help with weight control.

So why are grains being avoided? Let’s review some of the most common reasons:

Weight gain

The most common misconception is that grains will cause weight gain.  Grains have a bad rep in part because their refined counterparts show up in many highly processed foods such as white bread and snack foods. In addition to having nutrients and other healthy components removed when grains are refined, many processed foods also have more added refined sugar and not-so-healthy fats, which are the more likely culprits for weight gain.

In fact, studies have actually shown eating whole grains can help with better weight control. The key is eating minimally processed whole grains as close to their natural form as possible. And remember, even though a packaged food item is “made with whole grains” doesn’t necessarily mean it is better for you.  Eating too much of anything, even healthy foods, can cause weight gain.

Inflammation

There is limited evidence to suggest whole grains cause inflammation.  In fact, most studies point to the fact that whole grains actually reduce your body’s systemic inflammation and can increase the “good bacteria” in your gut that can help fight inflammation.

Blood sugar

Will whole grains spike your blood sugar? Again, no. Since whole grains have protein and fiber, they are more complex and take longer to digest, providing a slow and steady release of energy. Most whole grains have a glycemic index (GI) of roughly 25-45. Refined grains, on the other hand, contain easily digested carbohydrates which will cause blood sugar spikes.

GMOs

Is whole wheat genetically modified? Nope. GMO wheat is not commercially available in the US. You can thank your farmers for that.

Gluten

With the gluten-free craze, you may be wondering if grains contain gluten. Most whole grains are naturally gluten-free, with the exception of wheat, rye, and barley. Unless you have a medical reason to steer clear of gluten such as celiac disease, whole grains can be part of your diet.  Oats are also OK as long as the package says ‘gluten-free’.

Now that you know why whole grains can be part of your life, here are a few ideas to get more in your diet:

  • Start the day with a cup of cooked oatmeal or whole grain cereal.
  • Add quinoa or wheat berries to your salad, and snack on popcorn.
  • Use whole wheat bread instead of white.
  • Buy whole wheat pasta instead of regular
  • Swap flour tortillas for corn tortillas.
  • Try substituting half or the all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour in recipes.
  • Use quinoa, rice, or oats in meatballs and meatloaf.
  • Adding wild rice or barley to soups.  
  • Try a new grain in recipes like tabbouleh, risotto, or granola.

For more information, visit wholegrainscouncil.org.

Adapted from the original article.

Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN is a Texas-based Registered Dietitian and food enthusiast who shares delicious recipes for those who seek a healthy, vibrant life. By focusing on nourishment without giving up the joy of good food, Kaleigh helps others attain a balanced, wholesome approach to life that brings people together. Learn more about Kaleigh and visit her at Lively Table.

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