Here's What's So Wholesome About Whole Grains
In the midst of today's numerous food trends, it can be easy to overlook the excitement about whole grains as just a passing fad that maybe isn't quite as great as it's purported to be. While they may not always stir up the same level of enthusiasm as various superfoods, whole grains rightly deserve all the praise they get.
Whole grains are packed with important nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy and function as it should, and which refined grains severely lack. They contain dietary fiber, antioxidants, B vitamins, essential fats, and important trace minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper.
When unrefined, any grain can be called a whole grain. This includes rice, corn, wheat, rye, and quinoa. A whole grain is basically left in its natural state after it has been harvested. An unrefined, natural grain is made up of three components: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
The bran is the harder, outer skin of a natural grain. Though commonly removed, the bran is a rich source of dietary minerals, dietary fiber, essential fatty acids, and vitamins. In fact, the bran contains the most fiber out of all three grain components.
The smallest part of a grain, the germ is actually the grain's embryo. When unharvested, it is the germ which would grow into a new plant. Though small, it contains significant amounts of B and E vitamins, as well as some minerals, proteins, and essential fats.
The endosperm exists in order to provide the germ with food should it ever begin germinating. The largest portion of a grain, the endosperm is made up mostly of starchy carbohydrates. It also contains protein, as well as small amounts of minerals and vitamins.
A refined grain is one that has had the germ and the bran either partly or entirely removed, leaving only the endosperm. Examples of refined grains include white rice, cream of wheat cereal, and white flour.
By removing the bran and the germ, a good portion of the grain's total nutrients are also removed. Whole grains left in their natural, unrefined state provide the body with more nutrition and therefore with numerous important health benefits.
Whole grains have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. This seems to be due to the fact that they help maintain blood pressure and contribute to lower levels of cholesterol, leading to stronger and healthier arteries. Whole grains also help in the maintenance of a healthy weight and in lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, whole grains appear to be protective against inflammation in the body, and can be beneficial for a variety of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and asthma. The fact that they are packed with dietary fiber also contributes to better digestive system health.
A healthy, nutritious diet should contain around three to five servings of whole grains daily. It can be a little difficult to get used to whole grains if you're used to eating refined grains, so start small and work to incorporate more whole grains into your diet over time.
A good place to start is to swap out your usual breakfast cereal with whole grain oatmeal. You can work your way up to choosing whole grain bread instead of white bread, and whole grain pastas as well. As your taste buds start adjusting and loving the flavor of whole grains, you can begin to make salads and soups with some added brown rice.
Just like every other superfood, whole grains alone aren't a magical panacea for good health and nutrition in and of themselves. However, they do make up a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Swapping whole grains for refined grains is a great way to start fixing up your whole diet.