September is Whole Grains Month. Whole grains are healthful carbohydrates that come from a wide variety of sources and deliver tremendous nutrients and health benefits. While some forms of carbohydrates, such as refined grains, may be unhealthy, research suggests that eating whole grain carbohydrates can prevent weight gain and reduce the risk for some diseases.
A research study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital discovered that men who consumed whole grains had a reduced risk for developing hypertension compared to those who didn’t eat them. The 18-year study observed the eating habits of more than 31,000 healthy men aged 40 to 75 years old. At the start of the study, all participants were without known hypertension, cancer, stroke, or coronary heart disease. Every two years, the men filled out food frequency questionaires to asses their average whole-grain food intake. Compared to men who consumed little-to-no whole grains, men who consumed whole grains, especially in high amounts, had a significantly reduced risk for developing hypertension.
Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains
Many Americans associate carbohydrates as being fattening foods and avoid grains altogether.
While whole grains are a carbohydrate, they are considered a healthy carbohydrate compared to refined grains like white rice and white pasta. Whole grains consist of three parts: the endosperm, bran, and germ. The bran and germ are rich in nutrients like magnesium, potassium, folate, and fiber. When refined grains are processed, most of the nutritious bran and germ are stripped away, leaving just the endosperm behind.
Not only can whole grains reduce risk for many diseases, they also help maintain healthy body weight. A 12-year study by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital discovered that choosing whole grains over refined grains helped keep body weight down. Among 74,000 female nurses aged 38 to 63 years old, those who ate more whole grains had the least weight gain, while those who ate more refined grains had the most weight gain. These findings have significant public health implications, since hypertension and excess body weight are risk factors for diseases such as coronary heart disease and stroke.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests eating three to five servings of whole grains every day. Some whole grains include:
- wheat bulgar
- steel-cut oats
- brown rice
- whole barley
- whole oatmeal
- oat groats