March 2017 Healthy eating
THE IMPORTANCE OF EATING WHOLEGRAIN FOODS
For many years wholegrain foods have been considered the ‘foods of poor people’ compared to products made using refined flour. However, this is not true: eating wholegrain foods means providing your body with the precious nutritious substances it needs.
This type of flour is obtained by preserving every part of the grain: the starchy pericarp (which is made up of various layers, including the aleurone and bran), the germ and embryo.
A gem inside a seed
Unrefined cereals are full of precious substances. Fibre, both soluble and insoluble, is definitely the most well-known and for many years now it has been considered the most important nutrient for our health, but in reality, there are numerous substances in grains, all of which have significant protective effects on the body, that we can benefit from, not just fibre. These substances include carbohydrates,
proteins, vitamins, mineral salts and antioxidants that improve our metabolism, protect the heart (they can even reduce the possibility of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks, by up to 30%), reduce the risk of developing diabetes (-25%) and becoming overweight, protect the body from inflammations and any type of tumour (especially intestinal tumours) and work against oxidative stress.
Endosperm, which makes up the majority of the grain, is rich, above all, in starches, proteins, β-glucans, lipids and minerals. The pericarp, that is, the part we normally call the bran, contains the majority of the fibre, as well as B vitamins (especially thiamine and niacin), minerals and antioxidants, including ferulic acid and flavonoids. A significant amount of antioxidants (such as tocopherols) is also present in the germ.
The difference with refined flours
With the traditional grinding process, which completely removes the bran and germ and only preserves the endosperm, 20% of the grain is lost and even more of the nutrients are lost. Losing the aleurone, the inner layer that covers the grain, for example, means almost all the vitamins and minerals are lost, whilst removing the bran and germ and using only the endosperm means losing 80% of the fibre and 70% of the B vitamins, 90% of the E vitamins and 50% of the antioxidants (such as polyphenols) and minerals (like zinc) contained in the grain.
What wholegrain foods do
Important epidemiological studies have shown a correlation between the consumption of wholegrain foods and health benefits.
As well as benefiting the intestine (protecting it from cancer, inflammation disorders and chronic constipation), other biological mechanisms have been discovered which explain why wholegrain foods are so good for us: they are involved in changing the glucose metabolism, the production of insulin and they have strong antioxidant properties, benefiting the body in numerous ways.
Here are the main benefits of wholegrain foods:
- They reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular problems and
Together with a diet that is low in fats and a healthy lifestyle, regularly consuming wholegrain cereals can reduce the risk of developing cardiac disorders. People who consume 3 portions of wholegrain food a day are 30% less likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems compared to those who consume less than this amount. There are also beneficial effects in terms of glycaemia levels, feeling full up, reducing problems related to lipids, in particular by reducing HDL cholesterol and/or LDL cholesterol, and reducing the risk of developing thrombosis through a direct action that affects coagulation. Furthermore, the components of wholegrain cereals seem to be able to directly influence the function of the endothelium and, therefore, protect our bodies from atherosclerotic diseases.
- They work against obesity and excess weight
The probability of developing obesity is generally lower in people who consume more dietary fibre and wholegrain foods. In fact, thanks to the high fibre content, consuming wholegrain foods can help to control our appetite, making us feel fuller, affect the efficiency of the metabolism and reduce our energy requirements, resulting in a delay in the absorption of carbohydrates and improving lipolysis and oxidation of body fat. Contrarily, consuming foods made of refined cereals is related to high concentrations of insulin which, over time, can lead on to weight gain. Many studies (such as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, NHANES III) show that increasing the amount of non-wholegrain carbohydrates consumed, including cereals, is linked to an increase in obesity and diabetes.
- Reduction in diabetes risks
Eating more wholegrain foods has a protective effect in terms of preventing type 2 diabetes from developing. The benefit can be attributed to improving the glucose and lipid metabolism thanks to the fibre contained in wholegrain foods.
- Anti-inflammatory action
The antioxidant components contained in wholegrain cereals have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action after passing through the gastro-intestinal tract. In fact, the grain contains numerous bioactive substances, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), antioxidants (phenolic substances) and other phytochemical agents which reduce the risk of inflammation and disorders that can arise from inflammation, including cardiovascular and intestinal problems and cancer.