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Go With the Grain
Grain Elevator
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The value of grains in the diet has been overshadowed by all of the attention given to the health-promoting properties of fruit and vegetables. However, a number of studies have recently shown the value of using whole grains to protect us against heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Health organizations now recommend that we should consume a minimum of three servings of whole grains every day.

Eating refined grains rather than whole grain products could be costing people their health. In the Iowa Women’s Health Study, those who consumed at least three servings of whole grains per day were 30 percent less likely to die of a heart attack than those who averaged less than one serving of whole grains per day. In the Nurses’ Health Study, a high cereal fiber intake was associated with a 28% lower risk of diabetes. In a review of 45 studies involving 20 cancers, 95% of the studies showed whole grains to be protective. Overall, the risk of most cancers were 20-50% lower in persons with a high consumption of whole grains compared to those with a low consumption.

If whole grains are so healthy, why do 80% of Americans eat them less than once a day? One reason is that many people have a difficult job figuring out what is whole grain and what is not! Ingredients listed as cracked wheat, multi-grain, wheat flour, and unbleached wheat flour usually refer to refined products. Many ready-to-eat cereals are refined. The cereals that are whole grain include Cheerios, Granola, Muesli, Grape-nuts, Nutri-Grain, Shredded Wheat, Total, and Wheaties. Pearled barley, cornmeal, couscous, and bulgur are usually refined products while oatmeal and quinoa are whole grain.

Reasons to Avoid Refined Grains

Why whole grains? Most of the health-promoting compounds are located in the nutrient-rich bran and germ.With the elimination of the bran and germ, refined grains are heavily stripped of their fiber, vitamins, and trace minerals, as well as the many health-promoting phytochemicals such as lignans (phytoestrogens), phytosterols, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds.

Whole grains (and especially the oil-rich germ) are a rich source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects against heart disease. Ferulic acid, caffeic acid and other phenolic acids which are abundant in the bran layer also have strong antioxidant activity. Grains, especially rye and barley, are rich in tocotrienols, inhibitors of cholesterol synthesis. Phytosterols interfere with cholesterol absorption, while the fiber and phytates in whole grains protect against colon cancer.

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By Winston J. Craig, R.D. Copyright © 2010 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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