Unlike their processed counterparts, whole grains are the complete package. These unrefined, natural beauties contain all three components of the kernel: the bran, endosperm and germ. This provides whole grains with additional protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals that are stripped away during the refining process. The nutritional advantages of whole grains have been linked to everything from lower weight to reduced risk of chronic conditions like stroke, diabetes and heart disease.
Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that every 16g portion of whole grain food reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 9%. Adults who ate 3 daily servings, or 48 grams, were 25% less likely to die of heart disease. The study was published online on June 13, 2016 in Circulation.
"Carbohydrate quality and heart health are certainly connected," says Nicolette Jones, clinical dietitian at The University of Kansas Health System. "Excessive carbohydrate intake (which causes high blood sugar spikes) feeds a stress hormone called cortisol. With this stress comes inflammation, and that can pose the risk for heart disease."
Choosing whole grains
While most people know they should choose whole grain products as part of a healthy diet, it can be confusing to know whether something is truly whole grain. For example, many products labeled "multigrain" or "100% wheat" do not contain whole grains. However, something that may seem processed, such as "white whole wheat flour" is a whole grain product.
To help consumers with this confusion, the Whole Grains Council has created a stamp that helps you easily identify a whole grain product. There are two versions:
- May contain some extra bran, germ or refined flour
- Includes at least 8 grams of whole grain per serving (½ serving)
- All the grain ingredients are whole grains
- Includes at least 16 grams of whole grain per serving (1 full serving)
Not all products containing whole grains have received the stamp yet. As a general rule, check the ingredients list and look for the word "whole" in the first ingredient. For example, choose "whole wheat" (demotes a whole grain product) rather than "wheat flour" (not a whole grain product). Labels that contain the word "processed," "refined" or "enriched" are usually not whole grain and should be limited.
"I encourage my patients to eliminate simple carbohydrates like baked goods, candy and other junk foods, and replace them with fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables," Jones says. "You may find that you can reduce inflammation, feel more satisfied on less and even see a few pounds shed."
Cooking with whole grains
If you can cook rice, you can cook with whole grains. In fact, the preparation and cook times are often similar, and many whole grains can be used in place of rice in a variety of dishes.
Use our chart below to get acquainted with cooking whole grains. Then, check out our blog for more heart-healthy recipes.