Benefits of Whole Grains


Recent research reported in the May 2007 issue of the online journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, shows that Americans should eat more whole grains like oatmeal, barley and brown rice to help lower their risk of clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes, according to researchers. The study’s lead author, Dr. Philip B Mellen, of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina commented: "Many consumers and health professionals are not aware of the health benefits of whole grains".

In a review of seven major studies, the researchers found that higher whole grain intake was consistently linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. On average, adults who ate 2.5 servings of whole grains per day were nearly one-quarter less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than their peers who rarely consumed whole grains. Whole grains are believed to benefit the heart in a number of ways. The fiber and other nutrients in whole grains may help lower cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as improve blood vessel functioning and reduce inflammation in the circulatory system. Yet, surveys show that few Americans get the recommended three servings of whole grains per day, according to the authors of the new study. More than 40 percent of U.S. adults say they eat no whole grains at all.

"Years ago, scientists hypothesized that the higher rates of chronic diseases we have in the West, including heart disease, are due, in part, to a diet full of processed foods," Mellen said. This idea has been born out, he added, in the lower rates of obesity, high cholesterol and heart problems seen in people who eat more whole grains.

Whole Grains are the seeds of plants that belong to the grass family. This seed, also known as the kernel, is made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. But when a grain is refined, most of the bran and some of the germ is removed, resulting in losses of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals, heart healthy fats, and about 75 percent of the phytonutrients. Examples of refined grain products include anything made with white flour such as white breads, pasta, and crackers. Other examples include white rice and corn flakes cereal.

A whole grain can be a single food, such as oatmeal, brown rice, barley, or popcorn, or an ingredient in another food such as bread or cereal. Whole grains include whole wheat, whole oats/oatmeal, whole-grain corn, popcorn, brown rice, whole rye, whole-grain barley, wild rice, buckwheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa, and sorghum. Other less common whole grains include amaranth, emmer, farro, grano (lightly pearled wheat), spelt, and wheat berries.

Whole grains may be eaten whole, cracked, split, flaked, or ground. Most often, they are milled into flour and used to make breads, cereals, farinas, and other grain-based foods. Regardless of how they are handled, whole grains, or foods made from whole grains contain the three essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed.