Whole grains don’t have the best reputation
Whole grains have a bad reputation as dull, stodgy foods eaten by people who spend too much time worrying about their diet. However, whole grains are actually delicious when properly prepared. Moreover, they are much better suited to our digestive systems compared with more refined foods. Even if you feel as though your digestive health is currently good, you will be pleasantly surprised by the positive side effects of eating whole grain foods on a regular basis.
Why whole grains are important for good health
Whole grains such as wheat and rye are naturally rich in nutrients such as fiber and B vitamins, but these are lost during the milling processes involved in producing “white” or refined products. This means that when you choose white bread, white pasta or other refined products, you are missing out on the valuable nutritional benefits of whole grain products. Switching to whole grain foods will boost your energy and overall health.
Whole wheat vs white bread
The following table provides a great example of how whole grains are the better choice compared with refined foods. Consider the nutritional advantages of eating 100g of whole grain bread compared with a highly-refined white version of the same food:
Information Source: U.S. Department Of Agriculture
Not only does whole grain bread have significantly more protein and fiber, it also contains much higher quantities of calcium and iron. These nutrients are important for key bodily functions such as maintaining a resilient immune system and healthy red blood cells.
The role of fiber
Popular wisdom teaches us that vegetables are the best source of dietary fiber but, in fact, whole grain foods often contain more fiber, gram for gram, than veggies. For example, consider the fiber content of a bowl of lettuce. Typically, a portion of lettuce contains only a couple of grams of fiber. When you bear in mind that we should be aiming for around 25g of fiber per day, it quickly becomes apparent that this will not make an appreciable difference to your digestive health! On the other hand, a serving of whole grain pasta contains at least 6g of fiber. Therefore, it is sensible to make whole grains a staple source of fiber in your diet.
Fruit also contains fiber and should be eaten regularly, but relying on it as a main fiber source is not a sensible idea. While fruit contains healthy vitamins and minerals, it is often high in sugar which can place a strain on the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels if eaten to excess. To see how this might work in practice, consider the fiber content of an orange. Each orange has 3g of fiber, so eating several oranges each day would help you increase your fiber intake. However, an orange contains nearly 10g of sugar and so eating them on a frequent basis may not be the smartest move from a health perspective.
Caution: Introduce new foods slowly
If you are looking to increase your intake of whole grains, change your diet over the course of a few weeks. Making a sudden change from a diet high in processed foods to one based around whole grains may trigger gastric side effects including flatulence and diarrhea. These symptoms are not dangerous, but they can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. You can make life easier (and help your stomach adapt) by gradually phasing out refined or “white” carbohydrates and substituting whole grain versions in their place. Start by swapping your white bread for a whole grain brand, then your spaghetti, and so on. Within a couple of weeks, you should notice an improvement in your energy levels and digestive health.