Why Are Whole Grains Better Than Refined Grains? – The Complete Guide

Why Are Whole Grains Better Than Refined Grains? – The Complete Guide

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We’ve all heard that whole grains are better than refined grains… but WHY?

There is so much information about carbs and it’s so confusing! You might be on a keto diet and you feel like you shouldn’t eat either whole grains or refined grains.

I totally understand. I was a low-carb junkie and I was trying to minimize carbs until I learned about the benefits of including more whole grains in my diet.

Want to learn more about whole grains so that you can start enjoying carbs more?

Yes, please!!!

In this post, I will walk you through whether you should choose refined grains or whole grains, and how to choose REAL grains!

Ready to dive in?

Let’s do this!

Whole grain vs refined grain

Do you know why grains started to be processed?

Well, in the late 19th century, industrialized roller mills were invented and it totally changed grain processing. By milling, only the soft part is left which makes it easy to chew. Also, the fat content of the grain is removed through the process which makes its shelf life longer.

As a result, the refining process takes away valuable nutrients from grains!

According to the Harvard University School of Public Health, when grains are refined, they lose important parts that provide great nutrition sources, including bran, germ, and endosperm remnants.

  • Bran – Provides Vitamin B, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals
  • Germ – Healthy fats, Vitamin E, Vitamin B, Phytochemicals (help disease prevention), and antioxidants
  • Endosperm – This exists both in whole grains and refined grains (made of carbs, protein, and a small amount of some vitamin B and minerals)

In fact, when grains are refined, more than half of Vitamin B, 90% of Vitamin E, and almost all the fiber gets removed. So, if that many vitamins and minerals remain, what kind of benefits can whole grains provide to our healthy living?

1. Lower death rate

The first benefit I want to share with you is that you can reduce the risks of developing inflammatory diseases and infectious causes if you eat at least 2-3 servings of whole grains a day.

Whole grains contain an important nutrient called phytochemicals, and they can protect us from oxidative stress which is in charge of causing inflammation.


Phytochemicals are the chemical compounds found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and seeds helping protect them from fungi, bacteria, virus infection, and consumption by insects and animals.


Let’s take a look at this study as an example. Researchers collected data from 786,000 people from the US, UK, and Scandinavian countries. And they found that people who ate 70 grams of whole grains per day had a 22% reduced risk of total mortality, a 23% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, and a 20% reduced risk of cancer mortality compared to people who ate little or no whole grains!

2. Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

Did you know that whole grains have the power to lower total cholesterol, bad cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels?

A research group from Harvard University researched nurses to find out the link between whole grain consumption and cardiovascular disease.

They found women who ate 2 to 3 servings of whole-grain products a day had a 30% lower risk of developing or dying from heart attacks over a 10-year period compared to those who ate less than 1 serving per week!

So why can eating more whole grains decrease the risks of getting a cardiovascular disease?

Whole grains are high in soluble fiber which swells and absorbs water when entering the digestive system. Believe it or not, this can help slow down the digestion process in your intestines, which in turn can prevent blood sugar level spikes.

3.Prevents type ll diabetes

Not only does it help you prevent cardiovascular disease in the future, eating more whole grains can help stop you from developing type ll diabetes.

As I explained, whole grains are rich in fiber and phytochemicals, and those valuable nutrients play an important role in improving insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.

Take this research as an example.

In 2007, 160,000 women participated in an experiment and the researchers followed up on their health and dietary habits for up to 18 years. As a result, participants who ate 2-3 servings of whole grains a day developed type ll diabetes 30% less compared to those who didn’t!


4. Promotes digestive health

Have issues with your bowels? Maybe you need to eat more whole grains!

Whole grains are rich in fiber and it acts as a prebiotic for your gut microbiome. Prebiotics? Is it as same as probiotics?

Take a look at this explanation by healthline,

  • Probiotics. These are live bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. They can provide numerous health benefits.
  • Prebiotics. These substances come from types of carbs (mostly fiber) that humans can’t digest. The beneficial bacteria in your gut eat this fiber.

Is it clear now? Your gut can’t process fiber, but it’s good food for the gut microbiome and it helps you digest fiber! The gut microbiome then ferments the fiber and processes it into molecules called short-chain fatty acids, and these help promote the normal function of cells in the colon!

If you are on a long-term low-carb diet like I was before, you may want to consider including more whole grains in your diet to promote your digestive health. Surprisingly, I didn’t gain weight after I increased my carb intake! If you are interested in checking out the side effects of the long-term keto diet, check out this article for more information.

Are refined grains really bad?

Maybe you were expecting to hear from me that refined grains are bad and that you should totally avoid them.

I want to share something with you. I found an interesting fact in a meta-analysis published on Advances in Nutrition. When the author, Glenn, analyzed 32 different published papers, he found out that refined grain consumption is NOT linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

Why is that? Does that mean we should have refined grains in our diet?

He found out that a lot of studies paid attention to dietary patterns, but not food groups. This means most studies didn’t separate staple refined grains such as pasta and bread from indulgent refined grains including cookies, cakes, doughnuts, muffins, and brownies.

So yes, if your diet contains a lot of indulgent refined grains, it could lead to diabetes, obesity, liver disease, decreased immune system strength, and cardiovascular disease. Also, if your diet is low in fiber, it can lead to heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation.

The answer is, refined grains are not bad unless you are not eating a lot of indulgent refined grains. But if your grains are mainly refined, you may be missing out on essential nutrients.

What are examples of whole grains?

  1. Oats (Choose steel-cut oats, and rolled oats over instant oatmeal)
  2. 100% Whole-grain pasta or bread
  3. Popcorn (not the pre-packaged kind)
  4. Fresh corn
  5. Long-grain or short-grain brown rice
  6. Quinoa (I love mixing quinoa into my salad)
  7. Whole barley
  8. Buckwheat
  9. Sourdough such as rye

What are refined grain examples?

  • Snacks such as cookies, brownies, donuts, sweet rolls, scones, croissants, and muffins
  • Breakfast cereals
  • White bread
  • Pasta
  • Burger buns
  • White rice
  • Frozen meals such as lasagna, mac & cheese, and pizza
  • Instant oat meals

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    How to choose “REAL” whole-grains

    Did you know that even if products say “Whole grain” on the package, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are 100% whole grain?

    Yes. Food manufacturers describe their products in many different ways to make them look healthy! You may often see packages that say;

    • Multigrain
    • Fortified
    • Made with whole grains
    • Stone ground
    • Enriched
    • Double fiber
    • Cracked wheat
    • 7 grain
    • Wheat

    However, the sad fact is, those are mostly enriched white flour. So how can we pick the REAL whole-grain products to maximize their health benefits?

    Well, I will share a simple rule you can apply the next time you purchase whole grain foods! According to Harvard Health Publishing, you can find the percentage of whole grains based on what the label says.

    Isn’t this interesting? Other than the food label, you can also check ingredients lists. If it’s a REAL whole grain product, “whole” something should be the first ingredient. If it’s a multi whole-grain product, “whole” something should come in the first couple of ingredients. For more tips, check out this article published by Harvard Health Publishing!

    You can also use the search function on the whole grain council website! You can type in the product you are going to buy and they will tell you the percentage of the whole grains in the product.

    The thing is, you don’t need to start eating 100% whole grains today. It is way too overwhelming! I made gradual changes to my eating over many years and I’m still making changes! The smaller the steps you make, the more likely you are to succeed!

    Want to learn how you can do that?

    Let me share some tips with you!

    Step by Step Guide to Making A Swap With Whole Grains

    It is important to get the essential nutrients from the whole grains as much as possible, but it is also important to enjoy meals. I used to choose food based on the calories and nutritional value, but I was not always looking forward to my meal.

    So, how can we try to include more whole-grain foods and enjoy our meals? Well, you can swap your refined grains with whole grains to see if you like it!

    Breakfast

    Cereals

    Step 1: If you eat cereals for breakfast, consider swapping them with healthy cereals such as whole wheat cereal. Cereals are often made with refined grains and an unhealthy amount of added sugar. Check out these 30 healthy cereals listed by healthline!

    Step 2: If you are comfortable enough eating healthier cereals, try overnight muesli. You can soak rolled oats overnight in unsweetened almond milk and add things like frozen fruit, sliced almonds, and shredded coconut for a nutrient and flavor punch.

    Bread

    • If you eat white bread for breakfast, consider swapping it with sourdough rye or 100% whole grain bread. I like eating rye sourdough with raw honey and organic peanut butter!

    Pancakes

    Lunch and dinner

    Rice

    Step 1: If you eat rice often like me, how about introducing brown rice sometimes? My mum always made brown rice growing up but I really hated it. I eventually realized she wasn’t cooking it right! If you soak short-grain brown rice overnight and cook it in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes with 500ml of water, you will get really fluffy brown rice every time:)

    Step 2: I definitely enjoy white rice from time to time. I’m Japanese and I love white short-grain rice. White basmati rice is also good with curry! I usually try to limit my white rice to 1-2 times a week.

    Pasta

    • If you eat white pasta a couple of times a week, try reducing it to once a week. You can also pick different kinds of pasta such as brown rice pasta, chick pea pasta, and quinoa pasta. My partner and I don’t like whole-grain pasta texture, so we try to eat white pasta once every two weeks or so.

    Salad

    • If you like eating salad as a lunch, try adding brown rice or quinoa!

    Bread

    • If you like making bread like me, instead of using refined wheat flour, try to pick flour blended with whole grains. I usually use 60/40 bakers blend (60% white flour and 40% multiple grains) for my bagels!


    If you are not sure how much whole grain you should eat per day, download this healthy plate infographic created by Harvard School of Public Health. I find this easier than measuring your whole grain intake based on how much you eat.


    Comment below your what else you want to know about food and nutrition! I’m keen to know!

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