Whole Grains: How Food Affects Health

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Go with whole grains whenever you have a choice — you'll get more filling fiber, plus a bounty of necessary nutrients!

It's a simple fact: Whole grains offer up more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients than refined grains, making whole grains the superior choice when it comes to breads, pastas, cereals, and rice. Whole grains contain all three layers of the seed — the fiber-rich bran, the starchy endosperm, and the nutrient-dense germ. To create refined grains (like white flour), the nutritious bran and germ are stripped away, leaving a much weaker product, nutritionally speaking.

Regularly consuming whole grains has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Eating whole grains can also help with weight loss and maintenance because their high fiber content keeps you feeling full and helps control your hunger.

Whole grains contain many other nutrients, including a host of B vitamins. B vitamins help your body get the energy it needs from food, and they also promote heart health, regulate mood, combat PMS symptoms, and may help slow the rate of age-related cognitive decline.

The vitamin E in whole grains, along with zinc and niacin, can help boost eye health, reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, and slow the progression of vision loss. Vitamin E and zinc also help keep your skin beautiful, and zinc contributes to healthy hair.

Magnesium in some whole grains may benefit people who suffer from migraines or PMS, or who are at risk for type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. Some whole grains also contain selenium, an antioxidant that helps nourish your skin and protects it from sun damage. Selenium may also help prevent arthritis and certain skin cancers.

If you have celiac disease, choose whole grains that don’t contain any gluten. Brown or wild rice, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, and millet are safe bets (although it’s always a good idea to read package labels).

Amaranth | Barley | Bran | Bread, Whole-Wheat | Bread Crumbs, Whole-Wheat | Brown Rice | Buckwheat | Cereal, Whole-Grain | Couscous, Whole-Wheat | Crackers, Whole-Grain | Flour, Whole-Wheat | Millet | Oatmeal | Pasta, Whole-Grain | Pita Bread, Whole-Wheat | Quinoa | Rice Cakes | Tortillas | Waffles, Whole-Grain | Wheat Berries | Wheat Germ | Wild Rice

 

Amaranth
Although touted as a super-grain, amaranth is actually the seed of a plant. These high-protein seeds, or grains, are very high in magnesium, making them a great high-quality carb to eat if you have or are at risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, or mood disorders. Magnesium-rich amaranth is also helpful for individuals who experience migraines or PMS. If you have celiac disease, don't despair; amaranth is a gluten-free whole grain you can enjoy. Note to IBS sufferers: Amaranth is rich in fiber, which may cause gastrointestinal upset if you have diarrhea-predominant IBS.

 

Barley
Barley is a high-quality, whole-grain carbohydrate. It contains a good amount of soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and stabilize blood-sugar levels, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and keeping mood stable. Barley is also a good source of vitamin B6, a B vitamin that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Barley is not a gluten-free grain, so if you have celiac diseasebe sure to read labels and avoid it. Note to IBS sufferers: Barley is rich in fiber, which may cause gastrointestinal upset if you have diarrhea-predominant IBS.

 

Bran
Bran is the hard outer layer of a grain, which is the part of the whole grain that contains the majority of the fiber. A diet rich in high-fiber foods like bran can aid in weight lossand maintenance and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Oat bran and wheat bran are not gluten-free, and are therefore unsafe for individuals with celiac disease. Rice bran, however, is a safe choice for those concerned with celiac disease (although always check labels to be on the safe side). IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to high-fiber foods like oat bran and experience discomfort after eating them.

 

Bread, Whole Wheat
Whole-wheat bread is bread made with whole-wheat flour that contains all the fiber and nutrients of the whole grain (unlike refined grains, which have been stripped of many of these nutrients). A high-fiber diet is beneficial for weight loss and reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Whole-wheat bread is a good source of selenium, an antioxidant shown to prevent arthritis and maintain eye and skin health; folate, vitamin B6, and biotin, B vitamins that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and maintain healthy hair; and magnesium, a mineral that may help reduce type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and PMS

 

Bread Crumbs, Whole Wheat
It is always best to choose whole grains over refined whenever you can, so when cooking with bread crumbs, look for whole-wheat varieties. Whole-wheat bread crumbs are made from whole-wheat bread, which contains the fiber and nutrients of the whole grain. Whole-wheat bread crumbs are not gluten-free and are therefore unsafe for individuals with celiac disease. IBSsufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to whole grains and other high-fiber foods and experience discomfort after eating them.

 

Brown Rice
Brown rice is a whole grain that retains the fiber and nutrients of rice that are removed when it is milled to create white rice. Brown rice contains fiber, which reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes; selenium, an antioxidant that may help prevent arthritis and skin damage; and magnesium, which helps prevent and manage high blood pressure, osteoporosis, migraine headaches and mood disorders. It is also a good source of vitamin B6, a B vitamin that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. B6 may also help reduce mood-related PMS symptoms. Brown rice is gluten-free and safe for people with celiac disease.

 

Buckwheat
Considered a grain, buckwheat (also known as kasha) is actually a fruit seed that is a great gluten-free grain substitute for people who have celiac disease. Like other whole grains, buckwheat is a good source of fiber. A high-fiber diet is beneficial for weight loss and reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to whole grains and other high-fiber foods and experience discomfort after eating them.

 

Cereal, Whole-Grain
Whole-grain cereals are made with intact grains and provide more natural fiber than refined cereals. A high-fiber diet is beneficial for weight loss and reduces the risk of heart diseaseand type 2 diabetes. If you have diarrhea-predominant IBS, avoid whole-grain cereals that are very high in fiber (such as bran cereals), and if you have celiac disease, read labels to identify gluten-free varieties.

 

Couscous, Whole-Wheat
Couscous is a type of semolina pasta that is a common Mediterranean side dish. Look for whole-wheat couscous, which naturally has more fiber and nutrients than regular couscous. A high-fiber diet is beneficial for weight loss and reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Since it’s made with wheat flour, couscous is not a gluten-free grain and is therefore unsafe for individuals with celiac disease. If you suffer from IBS, you will likely tolerate whole-wheat couscous, but go easy on it since it is higher in fiber than regular couscous.

 

Crackers, Whole-Grain
Whole-grain crackers are a good source of high-quality carbohydrates. Unlike typical crackers made with white refined flours, whole-grain crackers naturally provide a good dose of fiber. A high-fiber diet is beneficial for weight loss and reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Most whole-grain crackers on the market contain whole-wheat flour and therefore are not gluten-free, so if you have celiac disease be sure to read labels and look for gluten-free varieties. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to whole grains and other high-fiber foods and experience discomfort after eating them.

 

Flour, Whole-Wheat
Whole-wheat flour contains the nutrient-rich outer bran and inner germ of grains that are stripped away when wheat is milled to make refined white flour (also called enriched wheat flour and all-purpose flour). With the bran and germ retained, whole-wheat flour is rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. Look for whole-wheat flours in bread products, and use whole-wheat flour when baking at home. You can swap out half the amount of white flour for whole-wheat flour to boost the fiber and nutritive value of your baked goods without making any other adjustments to your recipes. Whole-wheat flour is not gluten-free, so if you have celiac disease you should substitute flours made from gluten-free grains, such as potato flour, rice flour, and quinoa flour. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to whole grains and experience discomfort after eating products made with whole-wheat flour.

 

Millet
Millet is a high-quality carbohydrate, making it a good grain choice, particularly if you are trying to lose weight or have heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Millet is a gluten-free whole grain, so it’s safe for individuals with celiac disease. Millet is very high in magnesium, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, migraine headaches, and PMS symptoms. Millet can be cooked like other grains and served as a side dish or as a hot breakfast cereal.

 

Oatmeal
Oatmeal is a high-fiber hot cereal made from whole oats. It is very high in soluble fiber, which is why it has been touted for its cholesterol-lowering properties. Soluble fiber also aids weight loss, improves blood-sugar control in individuals with diabetes, and helps stabilize mood. Folate and vitamins B6 and B12 in oatmeal help maintain healthy hair. Oatmeal is also a good source of manganese, which may help reduce PMS symptoms. If you have celiac disease, look for brands of oatmeal that are certified to be gluten-free. Note to IBS sufferers: Oatmeal is rich in fiber, which may cause gastrointestinal upset if you have diarrhea-predominant IBS.

 

Pasta,Whole-Grain
Whole-grain pasta is made from flours of different whole grains, such as whole wheat, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, and whole spelt, and is higher in natural fiber than traditional, refined white pasta. A high-fiber diet is beneficial for weight loss and reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Whole-grain pasta is also a good source of folate, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease, and magnesium, which may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and is helpful for individuals who experience migraines or PMS. Whole-grain pasta also contains the antioxidant selenium, which may help prevent arthritis and protect against skin damage. If you have celiac disease, make sure to read the ingredients on packages, as many whole-grain pastas contain gluten. Gluten-free pastas include those made from rice, quinoa, corn, potatoes, and peas.

 

Pita Bread, Whole-Wheat
Pita bread is common in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. It contains a "pocket" that can be filled for a sandwich, and it is often cut in pieces and used to scoop up dips and sauces. Whole-wheat pita bread is made with whole-wheat flour that contains the fiber and nutrients of the whole grain (unlike refined grains, which have been stripped of many of these nutrients). Like whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pita is a good source of B vitamins that help reduce the risk of heart disease and maintain positive mood and healthy hair, and magnesium, a mineral that may help reduce type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and PMS symptoms. Whole-wheat pita bread is not gluten-free, so if you have celiac disease look for gluten-free breads made without wheat flour.

 

Quinoa
Quinoa is a high-quality grain that is actually the seed of a plant. Unlike most grains, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids. Quinoa is also a very good source of magnesium, which helps prevent and manage high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, migraine headaches, and mood disorders. Manganese-rich quinoa is also a good choice for individuals who experience PMS. If you have celiac disease, don't despair; quinoa is a gluten-free grain you can enjoy!

 

Rice Cakes
Rice cakes are made from rice, a gluten-free grain that’s safe for individuals with celiac disease. Because the rice is puffed up with air, rice cakes are a high-volume, low-calorie snack option that’s ideal for individuals trying to lose or manage their weight. Top plain rice cakes with low-fat cottage cheese, a slice of reduced-fat cheese, tomato slices, or nut butter to turn them into a more substantial snack, or use rice cakes as the base for a sandwich at lunch.

 

Tortillas
Besides whole-wheat bread and pita, tortillas are another option when making sandwiches. There are many different varieties of tortillas and wraps, including whole wheat, spinach, tomato, and even low-carb. It's important to read the ingredients and nutrition facts of wraps to ensure that the first ingredient listed is a "whole" grain and also to check the calories — many wraps are the equivalent of three slices of bread and could contribute to weight gain if you‘re eating them on a regular basis. If made with whole grains, wraps are a good source of fiber, which helps lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and stabilize mood. If you have celiac disease, look for gluten-free tortillas and wraps made from brown rice, corn, and other safe grains.

 

Waffles, Whole-Grain
Whole-grain waffles are a healthy choice for breakfast, especially when paired with a protein-rich food like yogurt or peanut butter. Unlike regular waffles made with refined white flours, whole-grain waffles provide a good dose of fiber. A high-fiber diet is beneficial for weight loss and reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Just be sure to stick to the portion size listed on the label (usually two waffles) and avoid dousing them in butter and sugary syrup. Most whole-grain waffles on the market contain whole-wheat flour and therefore are not gluten-free, so if you have celiac disease be sure to read labels and look for gluten-free varieties.

 

Wheat Berries
Wheat berries are the entire kernel of wheat (minus the hull); therefore, they are a high-quality whole grain that is rich in nutrients. Wheat berries have a chewy texture and nutty flavor, and they can be prepared like rice and served hot or cold as a side dish. Fibrous wheat berries help keep blood-sugar levels stable, which is helpful if you have type 2 diabetes or mood disorders. Wheat berries contain gluten and are therefore unsafe for individuals with celiac disease. IBS sufferers take note: Some people with IBS are sensitive to whole grains and other high-fiber foods and experience discomfort after eating them.

 

Wheat Germ
Wheat germ is the nutrient-rich part of a grain of wheat that is lost during milling when grains are refined. Wheat germ is a very good source of the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium, B vitamins such as folate, and zinc — which in combination help reduce the risk of arthritis, cataracts and macular degeneration, memory loss, and skin and hair damage. Other nutrients in wheat germ, including magnesium and manganese, may help prevent and manage high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, migraine headaches, and PMS symptoms. Wheat germ is not gluten-free and is therefore unsafe for individuals with celiac disease.

 

Wild Rice
Wild rice is a whole grain that contains fiber, which helps keep blood-sugar levels stable and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It is also a good source of vitamin B6, a B vitamin that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Wild rice is gluten-free and safe for people with celiac disease.