Health Benefits of Grains

Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta have one thing in common -- they are all made from grains. Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, corn, or another cereal is a grain product. These foods should form the foundation of the diet for several reasons.

First, grain-based foods are rich in complex carbohydrates, your body's best energy source. As the body's key fuel, carbohydrates provide your brain, heart, and nervous system with a constant supply of energy to keep you moving, breathing, and thinking. Grain products also supply B vitamins and iron (especially if they're enriched or include the whole grain), as well as other beneficial phytonutrients (substances in plants with health-protective effects). In addition, many grain-based foods supply fiber.

In this article, we will look at different grain items and how each fits into a healthy diet to make your body stronger. Eating healthier can be part of an alternative treatment against illnesses. Let's start by examining whole grains.

The Whole Story

An important strategy for choosing the best grain foods is to seek out products made from whole grains. A whole grain is the entire edible part of any grain, whether it's wheat, oats, corn, rice, or a more exotic grain. The three layers of a grain kernel each supply important nutrients:

  • The outer protective coating, or bran, is packed with fiber, B vitamins, protein, and trace minerals.
  • The endosperm supplies mostly carbohydrate and protein and some B vitamins.
  • The germ is rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.

When whole grains are milled (refined), the bran and the germ portions are removed, leaving only the endosperm. Unfortunately, more than half the fiber and almost three-quarters of the vitamins and minerals are in the bran and germ. When you eat foods made from whole grains, you get the nutritional benefits of the entire grain. Enriched grain products add back some of the B vitamins -- thiamin, folic acid, riboflavin, and niacin -- and iron lost when the grain was milled. But lots of other nutrients and fiber don't get added back.

Whole-Grain Goodness

The individual nutrients in whole-grain foods -- fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and vitamins and minerals -- each offer important health benefits of their own. When they work together in the "whole" food, however, they interact in powerful ways that help protect your health. For example, a diet rich in whole-grain foods is associated with lower risk for several chronic diseases and conditions including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and gastrointestinal troubles. It can also play a role in the treatment of many of these diseases.

A wide array of whole-grain foods is available in today's supermarkets. Examples of foods that can be found in whole-grain versions include breads, ready-to-eat and hot cereals, brown rice, pasta, crackers, tortillas, pancakes, waffles, and muffins. You just need to know what to look for.