Latest Dietary Guidelines Recommends “Make half your grains whole.”
The following article is reprinted from Food Insight Newsletter, published by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) which is supported by the food, beverage and agricultural industries. We find it encouraging that an industry that produces so many processed, denatured products is acknowledging the value of whole grains as art important part of the diet.
In the aftermath of the low-carb diet trend, grains are making a comeback. In fact, whole grains are finally receiving some well-deserved recognition. Research has clearly shown that eating a diet rich in whole grains is associated with significant health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes, and may also help in weight management.
The evidence of the benefits of whole-grain foods was so convincing that the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans went beyond the previous 2000 guidelines and now urges consumers to consume at least three servings of whole grains per day on the basis of research that links the greatest health benefits to three servings of whole-grain foods. For younger children the recommendation is to gradually increase whole grains in their diets as they grow. Regardless of age, everyone should strive to get most of their grains as whole grains. Most Americans currently consume less than a single serving of whole grains daily.
“With the decline of low-carbohydrate diets, grains are slowly coming back to the plate,” says Julie Jones, a professor of nutrition at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn. “This is a great opportunity to educate the public about choosing whole grains for at least half of their servings of grain foods.”
More than Just Fiber
Consumers typically associate whole grains with fiber and may mistakenly believe they can leave out whole grains if they get their fiber from other foods. “Whole grains are much more than a vehicle for fiber,” says Joanne Slavin, a professor of nutrition specializing in whole-grain foods at the University of Minnesota. “Actually, a whole-grain food, such as bread or cereal, is not always a significant source of fiber.”
Research demonstrates that the health-promoting benefits of whole grains are attributed to more than just fiber. Slavin explains that these health advantages are largely associated with the “package” of nutrients in whole grains. In addition to providing fiber, whole-grain foods provide vitamins, minerals, literally hundreds of phytonutrients, including phytoestrogens, antioxidants and polyphenols. Phytonutrients are substances in plant-based foods with physiologically active components that have functional health benefits.
“The individual components of whole grains have an additive and synergistic effect. It’s the combination and interactions between components that we believe provide the protection against disease. ‘Whole grains are an example of how the whole (grain) is often greater than the sum of its parts,” says Slavin.
Yet, nearly all consumers and even many health professionals are not aware that whole grains deliver as many, if not more, phytochemicals and antioxidants as do fruits and vegetables, says Jones. “In addition, some of the phytonutrients in whole gains are unique to grains and cannot be obtained by eating only fruits and vegetables.”
Whole Grain Basics
Whole grains are the entire seed of plants and are more than just fiber. This seed, also known as the kernel, is made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. (See diagram on opposite page.)
Whole grains may be eaten whole, cracked, split, flaked, or ground. Most often, they are milled into flour and used to make breads, cereals, pasta, crackers, and other grain-based foods. Regardless of how they are handled, whole grains or foods made from whole grains contain the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. A whole-grain product must deliver approximately the same proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm and the same balance of nutrients found in the original grain seed.
A whole grain can be a single food, such as oats, brown rice, barley, or popcorn, or an ingredient in another food such as bread or cereal. ‘Whole grains include whole wheat, whole oats, whole grain corn, popcorn, brown rice, whole rye, whole grain barley, wild rice, buckwheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), and millet.
Whole vs. Refined Grains
When a grain is refined, most of the bran and some of the germ is removed, resulting in losses of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals, unsaturated fat, and about 75 percent of the phytonutrients. To help compensate for these losses, many refined grains are enriched with vitamins and minerals at the levels found naturally in the whole grain. Compared to refined grains, most whole-grain foods provide more protein, fiber and other traditional nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and potassium, in addition to many plant phytonutrients.
Current intake of whole grains is much less than recommended. Unlike other dietary recommendations that often require major changes in food choices, eating more whole grains involves only a simple switch.With awareness and education, along with increased availability of easy to identify whole grain products, consumers can easily reach their whole-grain goal.
Whole Grains Linked to Better Health
Evidence clearly points to any association between consuming whole grains as part of a low-fat diet and lower risk of heart disease. Low-fat diets rich in whole-grains tend to decrease LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Increased intake of whole grains and fiber in combination with a low-fat diet has been associated with managing risk factors accompanying diabetes. Whole grains appear to improve glucose responses and decrease insulin sensitivity.
Whole-grains may reduce the risk of cancer by a variety of mechanisms. Fiber and certain starches found in whole grains ferment in the colon to help improve gastrointestinal health. Whole grains also contain antioxidants that may help protect against oxidative damage. Some scientists believe that other substances in whole grains may affect overall hormone levels and possibly lower the risk of hormone-related cancers like breast cancer. [Editor’s emphasis]
Studies show that people who eat whole grains in place of fattier foods tend to weigh less and typically gain less weight over time than those who do not. In addition, whole grains may help to satisfy hunger for longer periods, resulting in people eating less.
Bran: The multi-layered outer skin of the kernel that helps to protect the other two parts of the kernel from sunlight, pests, water, and disease. It contains important antioxidants, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, B vitamins, fiber, and phytonutrients.
Germ: The embryo, which, if fertilized by pollen, will sprout into a new plant. It contains B vitamins, vitamin E, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and unsaturated fats.
Endosperm: The germ’s food supply, which, if the grain were allowed to grow would provide essential energy to the young plant. As the largest portion of the kernel, the endosperm contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.