If you knew there was one food missing from your healthy meal plan that could potentially reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, would you prioritize eating it? Experts routinely express the myriad of health benefits of whole grains, but people are still cutting carbs and eliminating whole grains from their meal plans. With so many outstanding health benefits, it’s time to add whole grains back on your plate for optimal health.
But not all grains are created equal. Whole grains are exactly what they sound like – the “whole” grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. These three grain components provide important nutrients, like fiber, healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. All grains grow as whole grains, but some grains are stripped of their “whole” title and become refined grains. Refined grains, like white flour, has one or more parts of their grain removed, eliminating key nutrients.
By replacing refined grains with whole grains, you’ll boost your energy, feel more satisfied from eating and have an easier time maintaining your weight.
5 Reasons You Should Add More Whole Grains To Your Diet
1. Whole Grains Contain Fiber
Most Americans don’t consume their recommended daily intake of fiber. Women and men should consume at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day, respectively, however, more than 90% of Americans don’t meet their daily fiber needs.
Fiber is a type of non-digestible carbohydrate found in whole grains. Both soluble and insoluble fibers have far-reaching health benefits, including slowing digestion, keeping hunger in check, regulating blood sugar, and reducing cholesterol absorption. These metabolic benefits contribute to reducing the risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Even more, a high fiber diet can improve your quality of life by reducing bloating and improving gut health.
Since fiber is vital for good health, boost your fiber intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains. Here’s how some common whole grains stack up in the fiber department to help you reach the recommended daily intake of 25-30 grams (remember: fruits and vegetables contain fiber too):
- 1 slice of 100% whole grain bread: 3-4 grams
- 1/2 a cup cooked quinoa: 2.5 grams
- 1/2 a cup cooked farro: 4 grams
- 1 cup of cooked whole wheat pasta: 4 grams
- 3 cups of air-popped popcorn: 3-4 grams
- 1/2 cup of oats: 4 grams
2. Whole Grains Help You Maintain a Healthy Weight
Low carb diets from paleo to keto are extremely popular for weight loss, but is it necessary to eliminate an entire food group to maintain a healthy weight? Some clinical trials have shown that low carbohydrate diets, in the short-term, are superior to low-fat diets for weight loss. However, research proves that this difference in weight loss shrinks over time due to poor compliance.
Therefore, researchers started looking at carbohydrate quality that may impact long-term weight control. Evidence suggests that carbohydrate quality, such as consuming whole grains over refined, white grains, may be more significant. In one randomized controlled study, subjects were randomly assigned to consume only whole grains or refined grains for 12 weeks. The whole grain group showed a significant reduction in visceral fat that was not evident in the refined grain group.
Put this into action in your diet by choosing whole grains over refined grains as much as possible, while keeping portion size in mind.
3. Whole Grain Intake Reduces the Risk of Chronic Diseases
Studies repeatedly show that minimally processed grains, like whole grains, are associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and obesity. This is why the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that at least half of your grain intake is from whole grains.
There are several components of whole grains that may reduce the risk of these chronic diseases. As previously discussed, fiber has widespread metabolic and health benefits from absorbing excess blood cholesterol (helping reduce heart disease risk) to improving blood sugar response (contributing to lower type 2 diabetes risk). Additionally, the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals found in whole grains may protect against certain types of cancers. These micronutrients are stripped away from refined grains.
To help reduce your risk of chronic diseases; include more whole grains throughout the day. Here’s how you can add whole grains at every meal (if you’d like to):
- Breakfast: Choose oatmeal over refined breakfast cereals
- Lunch: Pick 100% whole grain bread for your sandwich over white bread
- Snack: Make air-popped popcorn instead of tortilla chips
- Dinner: Heat up Luvo’s Hawaiian Un-Fried Rice, made with black rice
4. Whole Grains Are Good for Your Gut Health
Your gut is home to billions of microorganisms, commonly referred to as “microbiota.” Recently, researchers have become interested in how whole grains impact your gut health to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Whole grains contain non-digestible components, like fiber, which feed the gut microbiota. The gut microbiota produces short-chain fatty acids from carbohydrate fermentation.
A lack of short-chain fatty acids has been associated with type 2 diabetes. Individuals with diabetes who consume a high fiber diet can increase the growth of microbiota producing short-chain fatty acids, thus improve blood sugar control.
Plus, whole grains are a good source of fiber, which contributes to improved gut health. In fact, a randomized controlled trial had some participants replace refined grains with whole grains for 6 weeks. Individuals who continued to eat refined grains for 6 weeks had a decrease in short-chain fatty acids. Even more, study participants who replaced refined grains with whole grains reported less bloating and more regular stools.
5. Whole Grains Can Help You Feel More Satisfied from Your Food
Many people who eliminate carbohydrates from their diet are unsatisfied at meal time. Have you ever finished a filling, but low carb meal, still hankering for something else to eat? This can lead to uncontrollable cravings, and even binging later (think of your inconsolable sweet tooth). If this sounds familiar, increasing your carbohydrate intake, including whole grains, may help.
Thanks to the fiber found in whole grains, they move through your digestive system slower than refined grains. Therefore, you’ll remain full for longer periods of time. Even more, by adding whole grains to your balanced plate, your brain’s reward system will feel satisfied, shutting off your hunger cues.
If adding grains to your diet seems overwhelming, you don’t need to include them at every meal. Choose a couple of meals per day to slowly add more carbohydrates and see how it makes you feel.
If you’re just starting to add more whole grains to your diet, here are some additional expert tips to choose the best quality:
- Shop the bulk bins of your supermarket to get the least processed whole grains
- Check the ingredient list of any packaged food. If it contains grains, look for the first ingredient to be “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain.”
- Look for the Whole Grain Stamp on packaged foods. This means 100% of the grain is whole grain.
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