9 Health Benefits of Eating Whole Grains
Whole grains have been a part of the human diet for tens of thousands of years (1).
But proponents of many modern diets, such as the paleo diet, claim that eating grains is bad for your health.
While a high intake of refined grains is linked to health problems like obesity and inflammation, whole grains are a different story.
In fact, eating whole grains is associated with various benefits, including a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Here are the top 9 health benefits of eating whole grains.
What Are Whole Grains?
Grains are the seeds of grass-like plants called cereals. Some of the most common varieties are corn, rice, and wheat.
Some seeds of non-grass plants, or pseudocereals, are also considered whole grains, including buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth.
Whole-grain kernels have three parts (2):
- Bran. This is the hard, outer shell. It contains fiber, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Endosperm. The middle layer of the grain is mostly made up of carbs.
- Germ. This inner layer has vitamins, minerals, protein, and plant compounds.
Grains can be rolled, crushed, or cracked. Nonetheless, as long as these three parts are present in their original proportion, they're considered whole grains.
Refined grains have had the germ and bran removed, leaving only the endosperm.
Though enriched refined grains have had some vitamins and minerals added back, they're still not as healthy or nutritious as the whole versions.
Common varieties of whole grains include:
- brown rice
- whole rye
- wild rice
- wheat berry
Products made from these foods are considered whole grain. These include certain types of bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals.
When you purchase processed whole-grain products, read the ingredient list to make sure they're made entirely from whole grains, not a mixture of whole and refined grains.
Also, keep an eye on the sugar content, especially in the case of breakfast cereals, which are often loaded with added sugar. Seeing "whole grain" on the packaging does not automatically mean that the product is healthy.
Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain. There are many different kinds, including whole wheat and whole corn, oats, brown rice, and quinoa.
1. High in Nutrients and Fiber
Whole grains deliver many important nutrients. These include:
- Fiber. The bran provides most of the fiber in whole grains.
- Vitamins. Whole grains are particularly high in B vitamins, including niacin, thiamine, and folate (3, 4).
- Minerals. They also contain a good amount of minerals, such as zinc, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
- Protein. Whole grains boast several grams of protein per serving.
- Antioxidants. Many compounds in whole grains act as antioxidants. These include phytic acid, lignans, ferulic acid, and sulfur compounds (5).
- Plant compounds. Whole grains deliver many types of plant compounds that play a role in preventing disease. These include polyphenols, stanols, and sterols (6).
The exact amounts of these nutrients depend on the type of grain.
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Manganese: 69% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Phosphorous: 15% of the RDI
- Thiamine: 14% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 12% of the RDI
- Copper: 9% of the RDI
- Zinc and iron: 7% of the RDI
Whole grains deliver a variety of important nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and other healthy plant compounds.
2. Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
One of the biggest health benefits of whole grains is that they lower your risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide (7).
A review of 10 studies found that three 1-ounce (28-gram) servings of whole grains daily may lower your risk of heart disease by 22% (8).
Researchers concluded that heart-healthy diets should include more whole grains and fewer refined grains.
Most studies lump together different types of whole grains, making it hard to separate the benefits of individual foods.
Still, whole-grain breads and cereals, as well as added bran, have been specifically linked to reduced heart disease risk (8).
Eating whole grains may lower your risk of heart disease, especially when they replace refined grains.
3. Lower Your Risk of Stroke
Whole grains may also help lower your risk of stroke (10).
In an analysis of 6 studies in nearly 250,000 people, those eating the most whole grains had a 14% lower risk of stroke than those eating the fewest (10).
Furthermore, certain compounds in whole grains, such as fiber, vitamin K, and antioxidants, can reduce your risk of stroke.
As part of a heart-healthy diet, whole grains may help lower your risk of stroke.
4. Reduce Your Risk of Obesity
Whole grains and products made from them are more filling than refined grains, and research suggests that they may lower your risk of obesity.
Another study reviewing research from 1965 to 2010 found that whole-grain cereal and cereal with added bran were associated with a modestly lower risk of obesity (13).
Decades of research suggest that whole grains are linked to a lower risk of obesity.
5. Lower Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Eating whole in place of refined grains may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes (14).
In part, this is because fiber-rich whole grains can also help with weight control and prevent obesity, a risk factor for diabetes (16).
This could be due to magnesium, a mineral found in whole grains that helps your body metabolize carbs and is tied to insulin sensitivity (16).
Fiber and magnesium are two nutrients in whole grains that help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
6. Support Healthy Digestion
The fiber in whole grains can support healthy digestion in various ways.
First, fiber helps give bulk to stools and lowers your risk of constipation.
Due to their fiber content, whole grains help support healthy digestion by giving bulk to stools and feeding your beneficial gut bacteria.
7. Reduce Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases.
Some evidence suggests that whole grains can help reduce inflammation (19).
In one study, women who ate the most whole grains were least likely to die from inflammation-related chronic conditions (20).
What's more, in a recent study, people with unhealthy diets replaced refined wheat products with whole wheat products and saw a reduction in inflammatory markers (21).
The results of these and other studies support public health recommendations to replace most refined grains with whole grains (22).
Eating whole grains regularly could help lower inflammation, a key factor in many chronic diseases.
8. May Reduce Your Risk of Cancer
Research on whole grains and cancer risk have provided mixed results, though they show promise.
Lastly, other components of whole grains, including phytic acid, phenolic acids, and saponins, may slow the development of cancer (24).
Whole grains may help prevent colorectal cancer, one of the most common types of cancer. Still, research on whole grains' anticancer effects is mixed.
9. Linked to a Reduced Risk of Premature Death
When your risk of chronic disease is reduced, your risk of dying prematurely also goes down.
In fact, one study suggested that whole grain intake specifically lowered the risk of dying from heart disease, as well as any other cause (28).
The study used data from two large cohort studies, adjusting for other factors likely to influence death rates, such as smoking, body weight, and overall eating patterns.
Results indicated that every 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of whole grains was linked to a 5% lower risk of death (28).
Whole grains are linked to a lower risk of dying prematurely from any cause.
Whole Grains Are Not for Everyone
While whole grains are healthy for most people, they may not be appropriate for all people at all times.
Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity
Wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten, a type of protein that some people are intolerant or allergic to.
Having a gluten allergy, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue, indigestion, and joint pain.
Gluten-free whole grains, including buckwheat, rice, oats, and amaranth, are fine for most people with these conditions.
However, some have difficulty tolerating any type of grain and experience digestive distress and other symptoms.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Some grains, such as wheat, are high in short-chain carbohydrates called FODMAPs. These can cause symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is very common.
Some people have difficulty tolerating grains. The most well-known issue is gluten, which affects people with gluten allergy, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity.
How to Incorporate Whole Grains Into Your Diet
You can incorporate whole grains into your diet in many ways.
Perhaps the simplest thing to do is to find whole-grain alternatives to refined grains in your diet.
For instance, if white pasta is a staple in your pantry, replace it with a 100% whole-wheat or other whole-grain pasta. Do the same for breads and cereals.
Be sure to read the ingredient list to see if a product is made from whole grains.
Look for the word "whole" in front of types of grains. If it simply says "wheat" instead of "whole wheat," it's not whole.
You can also experiment with new whole grains that you may not have tried before, such as quinoa.
Here are some ideas for adding whole grains to your diet:
- Make a cooked porridge out of oatmeal or other grains.
- Sprinkle toasted buckwheat groats on cereal or yogurt.
- Snack on air-popped popcorn.
- Make polenta out of whole-grain cornmeal.
- Swap out white rice with brown rice, or for a different whole grain like quinoa or farro.
- Add barley to vegetable soups.
- Try using whole-grain flours, such as whole-wheat pastry flour, in baking.
- Use stone-ground corn tortillas rather than white tortillas in tacos.
There are many ways to work whole grains into your diet. Replacing refined grains with whole grains is a good place to start.
The Bottom Line
Whole grains deliver a variety of health benefits.
Regularly eating whole grains may reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. This is particularly true when they replace the refined grains in your diet.
High-fiber foods like whole grains also significantly improve your digestive health, though people with gluten intolerance must avoid wheat, barley, and rye.
For improved health and longevity, consider adding whole grains to your diet every day. Healthy, whole-grain breakfast cereals, such as steel-cut oatmeal, are a popular choice.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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A Cute But Threatened Species<p><a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/what-is-a-pangolin" target="_blank">Pangolins</a> are the only mammals wholly-covered in scales, which they use to protect themselves from predators. They can also curl up into a tight ball.</p><p>They eat mainly ants, termites and larvae which they pick up with their sticky tongue. They can grow up to 1m in length from nose to tail and are sometimes referred to as scaly anteaters.</p><p>But <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128155073000332" title="Chapter 33 - Conservation strategies and priority actions for pangolins" target="_blank">all eight</a> pangolin species are classified as "<a href="https://www.pangolins.org/tag/endangered-species/" target="_blank">threatened</a>" under International Union for Conservation of Nature <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=pangolin&searchType=species" target="_blank">criteria</a>.</p><p>There is an unprecedented demand for their scales, primarily from countries in Asia and <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12389" title="Assessing Africa‐Wide Pangolin Exploitation by Scaling Local Data" target="_blank">Africa</a> where they are used in food, cultural remedies and <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/141072b0" title="Chinese Medicine and the Pangolin" target="_blank">medicine</a>.</p><p>Between 2017 and 2019, seizures of pangolin scales <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/02/pangolin-scale-trade-shipments-growing/" target="_blank">tripled in volume</a>. In 2019 alone, 97 tons of pangolin scales, equivalent to about 150,000 animals, were <a href="https://oxpeckers.org/2020/03/nigeria-steps-up-for-pangolins/" target="_blank">reportedly</a> intercepted leaving Africa.</p>
Reintroduction of an Extinct Species<p>Each year in South Africa the African Pangolin Working Group (<a href="https://africanpangolin.org/" target="_blank">APWG</a>) retrieves between 20 and 40 pangolins through intelligence operations with security forces.</p><p>These pangolins are often-traumatised and injured and are admitted to the <a href="http://www.johannesburgwildlifevet.com/our-hospital" target="_blank">Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital</a> for extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation before they can be considered for release.</p><p>In 2019, seven rescued Temminck's pangolins were reintroduced into South Africa's <a href="https://www.andbeyond.com/destinations/africa/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/phinda-private-game-reserve/" target="_blank">Phinda Private Game Reserve</a> in the KwaZulu Natal Province.</p><p>Nine months on, five have survived. This reintroduction is a world first for a region that last saw a viable population of this species in the 1980s.</p><p>During the release, every individual pangolin followed a strict regime. They needed to become familiar with their new surroundings and be able to forage efficiently.</p>
A ‘Soft Release’ in to the Wild<p>The process on Phinda game reserve involved a more gentle ease into re-wilding a population in a region that had not seen pangolins for many decades.</p><p>The soft release had two phases:</p><ol><li>a pre-release observational period</li><li>an intensive monitoring period post release employing GPS satellite as well as VHF tracking tags.</li></ol>
Why Pangolin Reintroduction is Important<p>We know so little about this group of mammals that are vastly understudied and hold many secrets yet to be discovered by science but are on the verge of collapse.</p><p>The South African and Phinda story is one of hope for the Temminck's pangolin where they once again roam the savanna hills and plains of Zululand.</p><p>The process of relocating these trade animals back into the wild has taken many turns, failures and tribulations but, the recipe of the "soft release" is working.</p>
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How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables With Water<p>Washing fresh fruits and vegetables in cool water before eating them is a good practice when it comes to health hygiene and food safety.</p><p>Note that fresh produce should not be washed until right before you're ready to eat it. Washing fruits and vegetables before storing them may create an environment in which bacterial growth is more likely.</p><p>Before you begin washing fresh produce, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-should-you-wash-your-hands" target="_blank">wash your hands well</a> with soap and water. Be sure that any utensils, sinks, and surfaces you're using to prepare your produce are also thoroughly cleaned first.</p><p>Begin by cutting away any bruised or visibly rotten areas of fresh produce. If you're handling a fruit or vegetable that'll be peeled, such as an orange, wash it before peeling it to prevent any surface bacteria from entering the flesh.</p><p>The general methods to wash produce are as follows:</p><ul><li><strong>Firm produce.</strong> Fruits with firmer skins like apples, lemons, and pears, as well as <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/root-vegetables" target="_blank">root vegetables</a> like potatoes, carrots, and turnips, can benefit from being brushed with a clean, soft bristle to better remove residues from their pores.</li><li><strong>Leafy greens.</strong> Spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, leeks, and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and bok choy should have their outermost layer removed, then be submerged in a bowl of cool water, swished, drained, and rinsed with fresh water.</li><li><strong>Delicate produce.</strong> Berries, mushrooms, and other types of produce that are more likely to fall apart can be cleaned with a steady stream of water and gentle friction using your fingers to remove grit.</li></ul><p>Once you have thoroughly rinsed your produce, dry it using a clean paper or cloth towel. More fragile produce can be laid out on the towel and gently patted or rolled around to dry them without damaging them.</p><p>Before consuming your fruits and veggies, follow the simple steps above to minimize the amount of germs and substances that may be on them.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Most fresh fruits and veggies can gently be scrubbed under cold running water (using a clean soft brush for those with firmer skins) and then dried. It can help to soak, drain, and rinse produce that has more dirt-trapping layers.</p>
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
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(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>