By Emily Vu; First Year Co-Chair
Al-“dough” most of us may not notice it, we frequently make decisions on whether or not to consume whole grains. Deciding what type of bread, pasta, cereal, or oatmeal to get at the grocery store may be an absent-minded decision, but what does it really mean for a simple loaf of bread to be whole grain, white, whole wheat, rye, or multigrain? In this article, we are going to narrow in on whole grain, what exactly it is, and the benefits of consuming whole grain foods, so get “bready!”
Every grain is composed of three parts: the endosperm, bran, and germ. The bran is the outermost layer that contains fiber, B-vitamins, and antioxidants. The endosperm is the food supply for the germ, which is the embryo of the grain. These two parts contain minerals, more B vitamins, healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates. You may have heard of refined grains, which are those that can be found in the forms of white flour and white rice. Refined grains are named this way because both the germ and the bran are removed, leaving only the endosperm of the grain remaining. With the removal of these two parts also comes the removal of a portion of the protein and vitamin content of the grains. Thus, we can understand that whole grains, consequently, are grains that contain the endosperm, bran and germ just as they did when they were harvested.
So why should we choose to consume whole grain foods? As previously mentioned, whole grains contain several B vitamins including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid. The first three vitamins listed aid the body in breaking down and releasing energy from fat, carbohydrates, and proteins, thus playing an instrumental role in metabolism. Folic acid, as we’ve learned is an essential component of erythrocyte formation. It is also especially important in women who are pregnant as it reduces neural tube defects and conditions such as spina bifida in the fetus. Additionally, the dietary fiber that is found in whole grains can aid in lowering the risk of development of various conditions such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes along with aiding in maintaining regular bowel movements. Fiber, along with bran that is also found in whole grains help slow the breakdown of starch into glucose, which allows for the maintenance of a steady blood glucose level as opposed to sharp spikes. In the ‘Nurses Health Study’ based from Harvard, it was found that women who consumed two to three servings of whole-grain foods each day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or develop heart disease in comparison to women who consumed less than one serving per week.
So how can increase our consumption of whole grains? Integrating whole grains into our daily diet is easier than we may think! Starting our day off right with a healthy breakfast is essential and choosing whole grain bread, English muffins, waffles, and bagels will do the trick. Also, taking time to read the labels of cereals to ensure that they are whole grain and lower in sugar contribute to a nutritious breakfast as well. Using whole wheat flour in that delicious banana bread or scrumptious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that you bake makes for a great snack. Cooking up some brown rice can last you 4 to 5 days and can pair nicely with chicken, salmon, vegetables, and many other things.
So the next time you visit the grocery store with this new information “ingrained” in your mind, improve your health and satisfy your stomach at the same time by integrating more whole grain foods into your diet!