Whole Grains: Hearty Health Options for Weight Loss

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on August 11, 2021 and last updated for accuracy on September 12, 2021

If you’re planning to lose weight, you must know that following a healthy diet is crucial to help you achieve your weight loss goals. It is also known that a healthy diet is more important than exercise; even if you miss workout for a few days, a healthy diet ensures that you don’t consume too many calories (1).

More importantly, taking in more foods that helps stabilize your blood sugar levels and keeps you full for longer is essential to weight loss. When keeping your hunger pangs in check, fiber-rich foods and healthy carbohydrates like whole grains are an ideal part of your diet (1).

What Are Whole Grains?

Whole grains are nutritional, unprocessed foods grains that are made up of all three parts of a kernel – namely bran, the endosperm, and germ (1).

Thanks to their fiber-rich bran, whole grains are known to be healthy options for weight loss (1). The bran is the outer layer that provides the necessary B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, antioxidants, magnesium, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are natural chemical compounds in plants that have been a subject of interest in research due to their role in disease prevention (2).

The germ is the core of the seed where growth occurs. Just like bran, it is also rich in B vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. In addition to these, the germ is also rich in vitamin E and healthy fats (2).

The endosperm is the interior layer of the whole grain, which holds protein, carbohydrates, and small portions of B vitamins and minerals (2).

Each of these components have various effects on our bodies. Bran and fiber slows the breakdown of starch into glucose, which then maintains a steady blood sugar instead of spikes. Furthermore, fiber aids in lowering cholesterol and removing waste through the digestive tract. It also prevents the formation of small blood clots, which triggers strokes or heart attacks (2).

Phytochemicals and essential minerals found in whole grains – like magnesium, selenium, and copper – may protect against some cancers (2).

With all the different nutrients digested, it’s safe to say that whole grains do offer a “complete package” of health benefits compared to refined grains, whose valuable nutrients are stripped off during the refining process (2).

Types of Grains

Grains can be rolled, cracked, or crushed. So long as the grains contain all three parts (germ, endosperm, and bran), they are considered whole grains (3).

Grains, in general, are seeds of grass-like plants that are also called cereals. Some of the most common varieties include rice, corn, and wheat. On a more specific note, there are some seeds of non-grass plants – also known as pseudocereals – which are considered as whole grain, such as quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth (3).

To give you an idea, there are three types of grains or cereal:

1. Refined Grains

Refined grains are milled to remove the germ and bran as well as other nutrients like fiber, making them of a finer texture and extended shelf life. These grains include breads, crackers, cereals, pastries, and desserts (4).

2. Enriched Grains

Enriched grains are made with replaced nutrients. Given that they are fortified, some other nutrients are added, which don’t usually occur naturally in the food. Most refined grains are enriched, and enriched grains can be fortified with other vitamins and minerals like iron and folic acid. At this point, it’s important to note that, unlike refined grains, whole grains may or may not be fortified (4).

3. Whole Grains

Whether they are produced whole or are grounded into flour, these grains retain all parts of the seed. Compared to the other types of grains, whole grains are better sources of fiber and other essential nutrients like iron, B vitamins, folate, selenium, potassium, and magnesium (4).

Whole grains can either be single foods like popcorn or brown rice, or ingredients in ready-made products like buckwheat in pancakes or whole-wheat flour in bread (4).

Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

Whole grains increase metabolism, thereby aiding in weight loss. They improve calorie loss by decreasing the number of calories retained in the body during digestion, while boosting metabolism simultaneously. As suggested by recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, whole grains are considered superior in the diet compared to refined grains (5).

Whole grains contain the whole kernel, and this includes brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-wheat flour. On one hand, refined grains are considered starches that are milled and processed to remove the germ and the bran to prolong their shelf life. Some examples of refined grains are white bread, white rice, and white flour (5).

The invention of industrialized roller mills in the late 19th century changed the way we process grains. Unfortunately, milling only leaves the soft, easy-to-digest endosperm. As the fibrous bran is removed, the grain is made easier to chew. Although removing the germ helps you stay free of its fat content, this eventually limits the shelf life of wheat products (2).

As a result, highly processed grains possess a much lower nutritional quality. Despite the soft, lift, airy breads and pastries that you make from the fluffy flour from refined wheat, the process of removing more than half of the wheat’s B vitamins, as well as virtually all fiber and 90 percent of its vitamin E content (2).

Milling actually empties out the starch of iron, dietary fiber, and B vitamins (5). Although some nutrients like iron and B vitamins can be restored through the process of fortification, other health-promoting components of whole grains – like phytochemicals and fiber – are irreplaceable and often not reintroduced (2)(5). Plus, enriched refined grains, despite their added vitamins and minerals, are still not as nutritious and healthy as whole grains (3).

Health and Weight Loss Benefits of Whole Grains

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that at least half of all the grains you consume should be whole grains (4). As a matter of fact, eating whole grains is linked to tons of benefits, including weight loss.

That said, here are 9 health benefits of eating whole grains:

1. They are high in nutrients and fiber.

Whole grains offer tons of important nutrients, which include:

  • Fiber: This comes mainly from the whole grain’s bran  (3).
  • Vitamins: Whole grains are especially high in B vitamins, which includes folate, niacin, and thiamine (3).
  • Minerals: Whole grains contain a good amount of minerals like iron, zinc, manganese, and magnesium (3).
  • Protein: Whole grains have several grams of protein per serving (3).
  • Antioxidants: A lot of compounds found in whole grains function as antioxidants. These include lignans, phytic acid, and sulfur compounds (3).
  • Plant Compounds: Whole grains offer several types of  plant compounds that contribute to disease prevention, which include stanols, sterols, and polyphenols (3).

Note that grains contain varying amounts of these nutrients depending on the type of grain. Nonetheless, the key nutrients found in 1 ounce (or 28 grams) of dry oats include (3):

  • Fiber: 3 grams (3)
  • Manganese: 69% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) (3)
  • Phosphorous: 15 percent of the RDI (3)
  • Thiamine: 14 percent of the RDI (3)
  • Magnesium: 12 percent of the RDI (3)
  • Copper: 9 percent of the RDI (3)
  • Zinc and iron: 7% of the RDI (3)

2. They lower your risk for Type 2 Diabetes.

A review of 16 studies found that replacing refined grains with whole grains and consuming at least 2 servings of whole grains daily can potentially lower your risk of diabetes. A factor that contributes to this is the fact that fiber-rich whole grains potentially help with weight control and prevent obesity – a risk factor for diabetes (3).

Moreover, studies have also linked whole grain consumption to improved insulin sensitivity and lower fasting blood sugar levels. For one, this could have resulted from magnesium – a mineral found in whole grains, which helps your body metabolize carbs and is linked to insulin sensitivity (3).

3. They lower your risk of heart disease.

One of the best health benefits of whole grains is that they lower your risk of heart disease – one of the leading causes of death worldwide (3).

A review of 10 studies found that 3 ounces (or 84 grams) of whole grains daily lowers your risk of heart disease by 22 percent. In addition, a 10-year study in 17,424 adults found that those who consumed the highest proportion of whole grains in relation to their total carb intake had a 47 percent lower risk of heart disease (3).

These researchers concluded that heart-healthy diets should include more whole grains and less refined ones (3).

A lot of studies take different types of whole grains in one group. This makes it difficult to look into and separate the benefits of individual foods. Still, whole-grain breads , cereal, and added bran are specifically linked to a lower risk of heart disease (3).

4. They lower your risk of stroke.

Whole grains may help you lower your risk for stroke. Interestingly, they are recommended in the DASH and Mediterranean diets, which are both helpful in lowering your risk of stroke (3).

In an analysis of six studies in around 250,000 people, it was found that those who ate most whole grains had 14 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who ate the least. Furthermore, specific compounds in whole grains, like vitamin K, fiber, and antioxidants can also reduce your risk of stroke (3).

5. They reduce your risk for obesity.

Consuming fiber-rich foods helps to fill you up faster and prevent overeating. For this reason, high-fiber diets are recommended for weight loss (3).

Whole grains, as well as the products made from them, are more filling compared to refined grains. According to research, these grains may lower your risk of obesity. When it comes to facts, it is found that consuming 3 servings of whole grains daily was associated with a lower body mass index (BMI) and less body fat, according to a review of 15 studies in almost 120,000 people (3).

Another study that involved a research review from 1965 to 2010 found that whole-grain cereal and cereal with added bran were associated with a modestly lower risk of obesity (3).

6. They support healthy digestion.

The fiber content in whole grains can support healthy digestion in many ways. For one, fiber gives bulk to stools and lowers your risk for constipation. Another, there are some types of fiber in grains that act as prebiotics. This means that they help feed your beneficial gut bacteria, which are important for digestive health (3).

Best Whole Grains to Include in Your Weight Loss Diet

1. Quinoa

Quinoa is one of the best protein-rich whole grains for weight loss. As per USDA data, a 100-gm portion of the grain contains 14 gm of protein and 7 gm of fiber (1).

Cooked quinoa can be included in salads and eaten with stir-fried vegetables and grilled meats. Also, you can add high-fiber cruciferous vegetables and fruits in your diet (1).

Make sure that you cook your vegetables well to get the most nutrition from then. When it comes to fruits, eating whole fruits is better than drinking fruit juices to more effectively lose weight. To fulfill your nutritional requirements, include healthy vegetables, cereal, fruits, and other foods along with whole grains like quinoa (1).

Quinoa is a cholesterol-free food grain that has a low glycemic index. With these benefits, quinoa is often preferred by people who need to build muscles and shed extra fats (1).

2. Brown Rice

Brown rice is the ideal alternative to starch when you are trying to lose weight. This whole grain contains complex carbohydrates, as well as polyphenols and phytic acids – all of which makes brown rice an intense force against erratic blood sugar levels. It is rich in fiber and aids in boosting digestion as well (1).

3. Barley

Barley – also known as Jau – is made available in flour form, which can be cooked and incorporated in dishes like warm salads or with stir-fried vegetables (1).

When it comes to this whole grain, hulled barley – an unprocessed, nutritionally superior counterpart of pearl barley that is prepared by removing the bran and husk (1).

4. Buckwheat

Buckwheat flour, or kuttu ka atta, is widely used during fasting festivals like Navratri. The nutty, gluten-free whole grain is good for weight loss and can be turned into a lot of products like noodles, rotis, puris, and pancakes. (1)

It contains high amounts of fiber and can also boost energy levels. Furthermore, it is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C, along with other essential vitamins and minerals.

5. Finger Millets

Also known as nachni or ragi, finger millets are extensively used in making parathas, rotis, and even dosas. Thanks to its well-recognized benefits against anemia and diabetes, this gluten-free grain is highly placed in the world of nutrition. Furthermore, ragi is also rich in calcium and vitamin D, which also benefits your skin and bones (1).

How to Enjoy Whole Grains

When choosing grains, make whole grains at least half of the grains in your diet. You can find whole-grain products and versions of bread, rice, cereal, pasta, and flour in most grocery stores. Fortunately, a lot of these whole-grain foods – including pastas, cereals, and breads – are ready to eat (4).

You can incorporate whole grains in your diet in numerous ways – the simplest one would be to find whole-grain alternatives to refined grains in your current diet.  For instance, you can replace white pasta with a 100-percent whole-wheat or other whole-grain pasta. The same goes for breads and cereals (3).

It’s not always easy to tell for sure what kinds of grains a product in the market has, especially with bread – where its brown hue could come from added coloring (4).

If you are not sure if a product contains whole grains or not, be sure to read the ingredients list, check either the product label or Nutrition Facts. Look for the word “whole” on its package, and make sure that whole grains appear among the first items on the ingredients list (4).

Still, keep in mind that “whole grain” – labelled foods does not always mean they are healthy (2).

To make the most out of your whole grain experience, try this tips in incorporating whole grains in your meals and snacks (4):

  • Sprinkle toasted buckwheat groats on cereal or yogurt (3).
  • Make sandwiches with whole-wheat bread (4).
  • Swap white rice with brown rice, or other whole grains like quinoa (3).
  • Add whole grains like cooked brown rice or whole wheat bread crums to ground poultry or meat for extra bulk (4).
  • Snack on whole-grain crackers (5) or ready-to-eat whole grain cereals like toasted oat cereal (6).
  • Add barley to vegetable groups (3).
  • Try whole-grain chips like baked tortilla chips (6)
  • Try using whole-grain flours like whole-wheat pastry flour when baking (3).

In addition to these, you can also experiment with other whole grains that you have not tried before, such as quinoa (3).

A Takeaway

If you’re looking for a healthy change in your diet, the initial step is to replace all refined-grain products with whole-grain ones (5).

Eating a variety of whole grains not only guarantees that you have more health-promoting nutrients, but it also helps make your snacks and meals more interesting (4).

Regularly eating whole grains gives you tons of health and weight loss benefits. To make the most of them, be sure to take the necessary cautions in consumption, especially that people with gluten intolerance should avoid barley, wheat, and rye (3).

To improve longevity, add whole grains to your everyday diet. Consider whole-grain breakfast cereals like oatmeal to start with (3).

References:

  1. https://www.ndtv.com/food/weight-loss-best-whole-grains-to-include-in-your-diet-to-lose-weight-quickly-1979814
  2. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-benefits-of-whole-grains#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/whole-grains/art-20047826
  5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315744
  6. https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20080225/whole-grains-fight-belly-fat
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