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ARE WHOLE GRAINS THAT IMPORTANT?

Published:Tuesday | October 20, 2015 | 10:00 AM

We know that whole grains are good for our health, but most people turn their noses up at them. This is because they taste and look different from refined (processed) foods. Due to their lower price and greater availability, most of us grew up on refined foods, so the thought of making the transition can be daunting.

First of all, what are whole grains anyhow? They are made up of all the edible parts of the grain in their original proportions. Examples of whole grain include whole wheat flour, corn (including popcorn), brown rice, oats, bulgar, barley, rye, millet, quinoa, and amaranth. By contrast, refined foods include white flour, white rice, refined cornmeal, regular pasta, and foods made from them.

important nutrients

Foods are usually refined to make them more 'attractive', easier to prepare and cook, and more resistant to spoilage. The problem is that the process removes many important nutrients, including proteins, fibre (soluble and insoluble), vitamins, minerals, and essential oils.

Whole grains are slower to be absorbed from the digestive tract. This reduces the amount of insulin produced, which in turn puts less pressure on the pancreas, reduces the amount of fat that is stored, and increases the time it takes to get hungry again.

Whole grains are a good source of vitamins from the B-group, which are important for the release of energy from food.

The essential oils in whole grains are important for reducing inflammation in the body and also help in the coordination of contractions in the intestines, among many other

benefits. They also contain less energy due to the presence of fibre.

As a result of the above-named factors, and others, those who eat the most whole grains may be 20 - 30 per cent less likely to have type 2 diabetes; 30 - 36 per cent less likely to develop strokes, 25 - 28 per cent less likely to suffer from heart disease; and less likely to be overweight.

Those who consume more whole grains are also less likely to have asthma, tooth and gum disease, colorectal cancer, inflammatory disease (e.g. arthritis), constipation, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Whole grains also promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon and reduce the growth of harmful ones.

To increase the use of whole grains, choose more foods made with whole grains, educate children about their benefits; and prepare them in more palatable ways, including combinations.