As soon as you type the word “diet” into your preferred internet search-engine, you’ll probably be met with results like “gluten-free,” “low-carb,” or “cutting out wheat for weight loss.” This grain-free diet trend has become increasingly popular, compliments of endorsements by many celebrities and Instagram stars. But before you write off grains for good, take a look at some of the top reasons we love whole grains, and why they’re essential to your health.
SO…. WHAT IS A WHOLE GRAIN?
What makes a whole grain whole? Well, really ALL grains start out as “whole.” The harvested seed is made up of three edible parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm.
- The bran is the darker coloured, outer skin of the seed, which is where most of the antioxidants, B-vitamins, and fiber is stored.
- The germ is the center embryo of the seed, which stores B-vitamins, but also protein, minerals, and healthy fat.
- Lastly the endosperm, which is the largest portion of the seed, contains starchy carbohydrates, protein, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
When whole grains are refined, the bran and the germ are kicked to the curb, leaving all those wonderful and healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber behind. Whole grains are not refined, and because of that all parts of the seed are included in the final (healthy) product. Remember, you don’t want to go grain-free, you want to go whole grain.
THE GOOD STUFF
Clearly, those un-refined whole grains have got a lot of good things going on. Here are a few of the amazing benefits of whole grains:
- Dietary fiber helps you feel fuller, faster, and longer. It also aids in digestion and promotes gut health. Fiber is found only in plant sources (nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), and grain fiber specifically has been shown to be protective against digestive cancers even more so than other forms of fiber. Beta-glucan, found in high concentration in both oats and barley, has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels remarkably. Personally, we love starting our day with a big bowl of oatmeal and fruit - which honestly keeps us feeling satisfied all the way until lunch.
- B vitamins are metabolic champions which you need, in order to make use of all those other amazing super-powered nutrients you are consuming. These power house vitamins ensure that the food you consume is utilized and absorbed to the full extent so you can get the most out of your daily nutrient consumption! They also maintain healthy skin, hair, muscles, form red blood cells, and promote healthy immune & nervous system function – kind of incredible, right?
- Minerals – such as zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, and iron are abundant in whole grains. Collectively, these compounds have the power to boost your immune system, regulate metabolism, reduce blood pressure, and keep your skin & hair looking healthy!
The moral of this story: whole grains keep you looking and feeling like the total 10 you are.
HIGH QUALITY VERSUS LOW QUALITY GRAIN
So, after reading that first section, it’s probably clear to you that not all grain products are created equal in terms of nutrient value. It’s important to choose the right grain products in order to get all those wonderful benefits described above. Refined grains, which is the bulk of what people consume today since they’re the bulk of what’s stocked on market shelves, have been linked to obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes – whoa! Just about the exact opposite effect of whole grains. That can feel overwhelming, but here’s something to hold on to: little changes in your diet can make a huge difference. (psst, looking to make smart goals, click here). Look for the words “whole wheat flour” or “100% whole grains” as opposed to “enriched wheat flour” or “wheat flour” on the ingredient lists of your favourite grain products. Or, even better, opt to make more snacks and meals at home ahead of time with a healthy whole grain flour (try whole-wheat flour, oat flour, buckwheat, or spelt). And hey! Bake these super seedy chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour, you won’t regret it I promise!
Drumroll please…. a few of my favourite whole, unrefined grain swaps are:
- Overnight oats as a replacement for boxed breakfast-cereal (get the recipe here)
- Quinoa or brown rice noodles as a replacement for white rice in stir-fry or soup
- 100% whole wheat wraps to replace refined, white flour sandwich bread
- Whole-wheat or oat flour to replace white flour in baking (replacing even half is a great way to start)
It is important to note that a lot of whole grain products on the grocery shelf today get a bad rep for being “unhealthy” due to some of the other ingredients included in their making. For instance, certain brands of 100% whole wheat bread, crackers, or pre-packaged snacks may also contain high levels of sodium, sugar, or additives which are admittedly not so great. Because of this, often the whole grains themselves take the blame. The best way to avoid some of those unhealthy extras is to incorporate unprocessed whole grains into cooking or baking at home and get familiar with reading nutrition labels.
TO SUM IT ALL UP
Whole grains are the BOMB! (The capitalization is totally needed, I promise!). Whole grains are jam-packed with nutrients, energy, and overall deliciousness, so they make a great addition to just about anyone’s diet. Now that you’ve received a brief grain education (you are hereby granted your diploma in grain education!) you are ready to navigate the grocery store and pick out some seriously nutritious whole grains! Go forth, be adventurous, and enjoy adding those amazing whole grains into your life!