Friday, November 03, 2006

Eat more whole grains!

Most modern diet advice not written by morons advises people to eat more whole grain foods, and less refined grain products. Today I am going to explore why this is sound advice, and not simply a transient fad.

The benefits of eating what refined grain products omit is well-established. All-Bran cereal dates back to 1916, and its main ingredient (bran) is what is thrown away to make white flour. My grandmother added wheat germ to her diet when I was growing up because it made her “more regular.” What that meant was left to the imagination, but we assumed it was good.

Fast forward a few decades, and nothing has really changed, we’ve only accumulated more evidence to support eating whole-grain foods. When you look at the objective evidence, the case for whole grains is overwhelming.

1) More fiber. Whole grain foods have, on average, several times the fiber of refined grain products. Most people consume far less fiber than the recommended daily allowance, and fiber has many scientifically established health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer.

2) More vitamins and minerals. Much of the nutritional value of the grain is lost when the bran and germ of the grain are discarded. Depending on the grain, these typically include magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin E. Quite a laundry list of nutrients to simply throw away, eh?

3) More protein. There is often a substantial difference in the amount of protein in whole grains vs. refined grains, especially the essential amino acid lysine.

Sometimes the refined grains are “enriched” in an attempt to bring them back up into some approximation of the nutritional value they had before they were processed. But they’re still missing the fiber and protein advantage the whole grain started with, along with a large proportion of the other nutrients.

Put simply, whole grains are recommended over refined grains because they are a nutritionally superior food. For those trying to lose weight, they are also generally more filling for a given amount of calories due to the added fiber.

Examples of whole grain foods include:


-Brown and wild rice

-100% whole wheat bread, tortillas and pasta

-Whole grain breakfast cereals such as Cheerios, Grape-Nuts, Nutri-Grain, raisin bran, shredded wheat, Wheaties and various Kashi cereals.


Examples of foods that are NOT whole grain foods include:

-White bread, white flour tortillas, any pasta not labeled 100% whole what

-Processed breakfast cereals (any cereal not labeled “whole grain”)

-White rice

-Hominy & derivatives (e.g. grits)

When in doubt, read the label. If the first ingredient isn’t clearly stated as something like “whole grain X”, it isn’t a whole grain food. Be aware that some brown-colored breads are not whole wheat at all, but what amount to colored white bread. Most whole wheat bread now is clearly labeled “100% whole wheat.”