Facts on whole grains and gluten

Whole grains are essential to a well-rounded diet, and gluten provides essential vitamins and minerals to the body.

If there’s one food group that’s always talked about in a negative way, its carbohydrates – specifically grains. Carbohydrates are often avoided because they cause “excess” weight gain and are “bad” for you. This is completely false! Contrary to the popular belief of grains being a relatively new addition to diet, they have actually been around for thousands of years. Michigan State University Extension says that whole grains are an important source of starch, protein, fiber, B vitamins and folate.

Fiber is important for defense against developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and some gastrointestinal diseases. Fiber slows gastric emptying, which makes you feel full for longer, and stabilizes blood sugar levels. This leads to decreased appetite and potential weight loss. Fiber, soluble fiber in particular reduces the absorption of cholesterol in your intestines by binding with bile containing cholesterol and dietary cholesterol. It is then excreted from your body, reducing the amount of cholesterol. Less cholesterol in the body leads to a healthier heart. B vitamins provide the body with energy by assisting in the transformation of carbohydrates to glucose, which the body uses as fuel to produce energy. It’s recommended that men consume 38 grams of fiber a day while women should consume 25 grams of fiber a day.

B vitamins are essential for preservation of muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract and also for the health of skin, hair, eyes and liver. Gastrointestinal diseases such as diverticulosis (small pockets forming in the intestine) can be reduced with whole grain intake. Folate, a B vitamin is extremely important in the health of pregnant women and infants. Folate is the main nutrient needed to protect the developing fetus against spina bifida – the incomplete closure of the spinal cord and spinal column, anencephaly – a severe underdevelopment of the brain and encephalocele, which is when brain tissue protrudes from an abnormal opening in the skull. All of these are serious defects and the risk can be reduced with adequate folic acid intake, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Meeting dietary recommendations when going gluten free is difficult

Gluten free diets have become incredibly popular over the past few years. While it is true that celiac disease has become more prevalent, a gluten free diet is not a healthy alternative for those without the disease. For those with celiac disease, it is essential to be on a gluten free diet due to the inability for the body to digest gluten. Those that are going gluten free for the belief that it’s healthier due to a reduction in grains consumed, are losing out on important vitamins and minerals and essential intake of fiber.

Whole grains consist of a variety of different foods, they’re not just found in whole wheat breads and flours. Whole grains are are in barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, brown rice, rye, wheat, wild rice, popcorn and many more! Consumption of whole grains varies for every individual; to find out your estimated daily needs visit MyPlate. September is Whole Grains Month and to celebrate, make half of your grain servings whole grains and try new varieties of grains. You can visit the Whole Grains Counsel for recipes.

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