Grains are seeds of grass-like plants called cereals, such as corn, rice, and wheat. Grains may be refined or whole. Whole grain is the grain consumed without undergoing processing. It contains the bran (an outer shell that contains fiber, minerals, and antioxidants), germ (inner layer containing vitamins, minerals, protein, and plant compounds), and endoderm (middle layer mostly made up of carbs). Some seeds of non-grass plants, also called pseudo-cereals, such as quinoa and buckwheat are also considered whole grains. Refined grains have the germ and bran removed, leaving only the endosperm. Hence, whole grains are considered healthier than refined grains. For example, white pasta is refined pasta that is stripped of many nutrients, and brown pasta is whole wheat pasta that is healthier.
Is it safe to eat whole grains?
Wheat is a good source of fiber, essential vitamins, and minerals. Eating both refined and unrefined whole wheat is not bad for health, but whole wheat is healthier because all the nutrients are intact. Gluten-containing foods such as wheat, rye, and barley are essential for good health. Gluten is a protein present in wheat that has recently caused some people to avoid eating wheat and other grains. However, gluten is not harmful except for the small percent of the population with conditions such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), or a gluten allergy, who cannot tolerate gluten and must eradicate it from their diet to reduce abdominal pain and other symptoms associated with their condition.
Eating too many whole grains too quickly can cause the intestines to work harder, resulting in sluggish digestion causing digestive problems such as water retention, bloating, and gas. Hence, it is important to eat a balanced diet incorporating whole grains in proportion.
The US government (U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA]) has created a helpful guide for adults and children to be as healthy as possible by ensuring a balanced diet called the MyPlate diet plan. “MyPlate” replaces the familiar “food pyramid” that has been found to be obsolete. The MyPlate model shows the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, and dairy) in a proportion set, making it easier to understand the types of food and the quantity to include in each meal to have a healthy and balanced diet. The plate is divided into four unequal sections to represent different food groups.
The main food groups are as follows:
- Grains (wheat)
In the MyPlate diet plan, vegetables make up the largest portion on the plate, which is 40%, followed by grains, which is 30%. Fruits make up 10% of the plate, and protein makes up 20%. Fruits and vegetables fill half the plate, whereas proteins and grains fill the other half. Small amount of dairy in a glass (milk) or cup (yogurt) is incorporated into the diet.
What are the benefits of eating whole grains?
Whole grains have several health benefits, such as:
- High in nutrients and fiber: Whole wheat contains several important nutrients such as:
- Fiber that aids in digestion
- Vitamins such as vitamin B complex, niacin, thiamine, and folate
- Minerals such as zinc, iron, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium
- Antioxidants such as phytic acid, ferulic acid, and sulfur compounds
- Plant compounds that help in preventing several diseases such as polyphenols, stanols, and sterols
- Decreased risk of heart disease: It has been found that 28 g of whole grains daily can lower the risk of heart diseases by 22%.
- Decreased risk of stroke: People eating whole grains everyday have a lower risk of stroke by 14% than those eating only a few times.
- Decreased risk of obesity: Fiber-rich foods cause early satiety (feeling full) that prevents overeating. Hence, high-fiber diets are recommended for weight loss.
- Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes: Fiber-rich grains help with weight control and prevent obesity, which are risk factors for diabetes. Magnesium is a mineral grain that helps the body metabolize carbs in the body.
- Aids in digestion: The fiber in grains can support healthy digestion by adding bulk to stools, preventing constipation, and eliminating bad gut bacteria.
- Reduces chronic inflammation: Grains can help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of complications occurring due to chronic inflammatory diseases.
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