With the advance of new high profile eating plans like Paleo, and the increased emphasis on celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, many people are wondering if grain is still considered a healthy food. And if you do eat grain, what guidelines should you follow? A recent article by Marilyn S. Radke, M.D., M.P.H. offers some answers.
Dr. Radke emphasizes that whole grain foods support good health. Eating whole grains helps prevent digestive problems, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain kinds of cancer. In their whole state, grains are high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, making them effective in reducing hunger and controlling weight.
It is important to understand the difference between whole grains and refined grains.
Grains are the seeds of plants, and in their whole, or unrefined, state, they include three parts. Bran comprises the outer layer of the seed. It contains fiber, B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. The endosperm is the kernel and the bulk of the seeds; it contains complex carbohydrates, proteins and B vitamins. The germ produces the sprout, and it contains B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals, unsaturated fats, phytochemicals and antioxidents.
In whole grains, the fiber has not been removed. Fiber is the portion of a plant the body cannot digest. In whole grains there are both soluble and insoluble fiber. Certain grains, such as oats, barley and rye have soluble fiber which slows the emptying of the stomach and absorption of nutrients, which helps control blood sugar.
In refined grain, the bran and germ have been removed, and only the endosperm remains. Refined grains such as white rice and white flour have lost as much as 80 percent of their nutrients. Vitamins and minerals have usually been added back into refined grains, but they still have many fewer nutrients and less fiber than whole grains. To be sure you are eating whole grains, read labels carefully. Whole grain foods will say “100 percent whole grain” or “whole wheat.” If the label says simply “100 percent wheat,” or another term, the grain has been refined.
Some other whole grains are: amaranth, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, kasha, bulgar, kamut, millet, oats, popcorn, quinoa, spelt, teff, triticale, whole grain corn or cornmeal, whole rye, and wild rice. Refined grains include: corn flakes, couscous, cream of wheat or rice, degerminated cornmeal, enriched pasta, and most breakfast cereals.
Some people do have problems eating grain, and need to take special precautions. One American in 133 has celiac disease, an intestinal disorder which is made worse by gluten, a protein that occurs in wheat, rye and barley.
Wheat allergy is another type of immune reaction against gluten and other wheat proteins. Other people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which also causes intestinal symptoms.
In each of these cases, the solution is to avoid gluten. Stay away from wheat, rye and barley, which of course includes pasta and cereal, as well as many processed foods. People with gluten intolerance can, however, eat rice, amaranth, quinoa or buckwheat flour. Today, it is possible to buy gluten-free bread, pasta and other food products.
Whether or not you choose to avoid the gluten containing foods, by all means make whole grains part of your daily diet. They are low in fat and high in nutritional value, and they satisfy hunger. And of course, always choose whole grains over refined.