If whole grains are a go-to food you love but have avoided fearing they cause weight gain, it looks like you can lay that concern to rest. A long-term recent study in the Journal of Nutrition compared the influence on a person’s health between whole grains versus refined grains and found that actually adding more whole grains to your diet can help older adults maintain a thinner waist, lower blood pressure, and lower blood sugar.
How the study was conducted
For 18 years, more than 3,000 people in their mid-50s were surveyed by completing a food frequency questionnaire at baseline and every four years after. Researchers, who use food frequency questionnaires, collect health and lifestyle data from participants including waist circumference, blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels.
What their findings showed was that people who ate three or more servings of whole grains each day had smaller increases in waist circumference, better blood sugar control, and lower blood pressure than participants who ate less than one-half cup of a serving each day.
Take away from the study
The upshot news from this research is that carbohydrates, like all whole grains, should be regularly consumed and incorporated into meals each day. Grains are naturally high in fiber, helping you fell full and satisfied which makes it easier to maintain healthy body weight. Whole grains have also been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and other health problems.
But what about refined grains and what is the difference between them and whole grains?
It’s important to first understand the anatomy of whole grain. Grains and whole grains are the seeds of grasses cultivated for food, such as wheat or oats. Depending on the type of grain, grains come in many sizes and shapes. There are three parts that make a grain ‘whole’ – the three parts that make a grain ‘whole’ are the bran, germ, and endosperm.
Therefore, a ‘whole’ grain means they are intact without having any of the three parts of a seed removed. In other words, a whole grain still contains the bran, germ, and endosperm, each one is a valuable source of fiber and nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, folate, selenium, potassium, and magnesium. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, popcorn, barley, buckwheat, millet, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, and whole wheat bread, pasta, or crackers.
One serving of whole grain is equal to one slice of bread, one-half cup of cooked grains, one-half cup of oatmeal, three cups of popcorn, about five crackers, or one-half cup of cooked pasta.
Refined grains will not retain the three parts of a ‘whole’ grain – the bran, germ, or endosperm. Refined grains are milled in which the germ and bran are removed, giving them a finer texture that extends shelf life. But this refining process also removes many nutrients, including fiber. Examples of refined grains include white flour, white rice, white bread, cakes, cookies pie crust, sugary breakfast cereals, and desserts.
Ways to add more whole grains to your diet
Whole grains have always been a nutritious food that deserves a place on your plate. This also includes white whole-wheat bread. White whole-wheat bread (and flour) is made with whole grains, just as is regular whole-wheat bread. Nutritionally, white whole-wheat bread is similar to regular whole wheat bread. So if you prefer the taste and texture of white bread but want the nutritional benefits of whole bread, choose white whole-wheat bread over refined white bread.
For more ideas on how to enjoy healthy whole grain in your diet, try the following tips:
- Include whole-grain cereals (those that have at least 3 grams of fiber and no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving size), such as whole-wheat bran flakes, shredded wheat, or oatmeal.
- Replace plain bagels with bagels made from whole wheat flour.
- Eat oatmeal or whole-wheat toast with a side of eggs and fresh berries
- Replace white rice with quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, barley, or bulger
- Add whole grains, such as cooked brown rice or whole-grain bread crumbs to ground meat or poultry for extra bulk
- Swap out white flour tortillas with whole wheat versions
- Add brown rice as a side for a stir fry or sheet pan dinner
- Snack on popcorn or whole wheat crackers