By Lisa Collier Cool
Eating three servings of whole grains daily can dramatically reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Yet 95 percent of Americans do not eat enough whole grains and miss out on the well-documented health benefits.
The USDA’s MyPlate Dietary guidelines have included whole grains as a food to increase, but doing so doesn’t have to be difficult. Even adding fun grains such as popcorn, the surprising whole grain, can be surprisingly beneficial. In fact, new research shows that popcorn packs more antioxidant power than a day’s worth of fruit and vegetables, in part because it has a much lower water content.
Three Ounces A Day Protects Against Chronic Diseases
The recommended amount of whole grains is just three servings, or three ounces, per day. A single serving could include half a cup of brown rice, a one-ounce slice of whole wheat bread, or a 6-inch corn tortilla. But benefits have been found for even less than the recommended amount of grain.
- Longer life. Eating a diet rich in fiber, as found in whole grains, dramatically reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular causes, according to a newstudy of nearly 400,000 people ages 50 and older. Reserchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Association of Retired People (AARP). In fact, men who ate the most fiber were 56 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, infectious disease and respiratory disorders during the nine-year, compared to those who ate the least fiber. A high-fiber diet cut women’s risk of mortality from those causes by 59 percent..
- Lower risk of cardiovascular events. A meta-analysis of seven studiesshowed that greater whole grain intake trimmed the risk of heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease by 21 percent. Furthermore, soluble fiber in oatmeal and out bran can reduce LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol as well as total cholesterol.
- Protection against cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research estimated that more than 64,000 cases of cancer would be prevented if we ate more fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and less red or processed meat. The researchers also reported that this type of diet, combined with a healthy lifestyle, could prevent about 45 percent of cases of colon cancer.
- Trimming diabetes risk. Replacing just a third of a serving of white rice per day with brown rice can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes by 16 percent and switching from refined grains to low grains in general lowers diabetes risk by 36 percent, research published in Archives of Internal Medicine indicates.
- Weight loss. Whole grains digest more slowly than refined grains, which keeps blood sugar levels stable rather than stimulating insulin. Lowering the amount of carbs in your diet from 60 percent to 40 percent and sticking to slow-digesting foods (which includes whole grains, legumes and non-starchy vegetables), burns more calories than following a traditional low-fat diet. Another study found that replacing refined grains with whole grains resulted in greater fat loss—and reduced risk for heart disease.
- Stroke prevention. Eating whole grains cuts women’s risk for ischemic stroke by 30 to 40 percent, according to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association. The study looked at 75,521 women, ages of 38 to 63. “Replacing refined grains with whole grains by even one serving a day may have significant benefits in reducing the risk of ischemic stroke,” the study authors wrote.
Whole grains are loaded with phytochemicals, antioxidants, and minerals such as magnesium, selenium, zinc, copper and manganese. They also contain B vitamins, magnesium, and iron—plus soluble fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.
What are whole grains, exactly?
“Whole grains are cereal grains that consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked kernel, which includes the bran, germ and the innermost part of the kernel (the endosperm),” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains. Contrast this with refined grains, where the bran, germ and endosperm are mechanically removed—along with many vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
Whole grains include whole wheat, oats and oatmeal, corn and cornmeal, brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, rye, sorghum, teff, and triticale. Refined grains include white rice, white bread, “instant” oatmeal, and baked goods made with white flour.
Avoid deceptive labels!
Before you buy a loaf of bread, make sure it says “100 percent whole grain” or “100 percent whole wheat” or even “whole wheat.” Labels reading “wheat flour” or “100% wheat” include refined grains. “Organic” doesn’t necessarily mean an item contains whole grains. “Multigrain” or “stone ground” breads are also not necessarily whole grains.
When reading labels, look for those listing the whole grain as the first ingredient.
The Whole Grain Council has two whole grain stamps on food packages to make buying whole grains easier. The basic stamp simply says “Whole Grain,” which means that the product has 8g or more of whole grain per serving. The 100 percent stamp assures that the product has at least 16g of whole grains per serving, and that all of its ingredients are whole grains. Each stamp also explains how many grams of whole grain ingredients are in each serving of the product.