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While the Paleo movement paints all grains as the supervillain, recent studies confirm the status of whole grains as a superfood. Whole grains are a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. They feature a wide spectrum of vitamins (from B-complex to E) and minerals (iron, selenium, and magnesium, for starters). They have anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, cell-protective antioxidants and heart-healthy lignans.

Eating combinations of different whole grains makes the most impact in creating a diverse gut microbiome

If you still need more reasons to feature grains on your plate, two new recent studies from Tufts University point to two more upsides of whole grains: They not only increase metabolism, but they also improve the quantity and diversity of gut microbiota. And what’s good for your gut is good for your heart.

What follows are four strong reasons to take a new shine to whole grains:

1. Whole Grains Improve Your Gut Microbiome

Variety is the spice of life, and also the key to health when it comes to the digestive system. A 2013 study published in Gut Microbes showed that eating combinations of different whole grains makes the most impact in creating a diverse gut microbiome. This study revealed that alterations in gut bacteria coincided with decreased inflammation, which is at the root of most chronic conditions including heart disease. A March 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition offers up ongoing evidence that consuming a wider array of whole grains improves the quantity and quality (the range) of good bacteria in our gut. This 2017 study also demonstrates how the gut microbiome changes that result from eating whole grains can even improve immune function.

2. Whole Grains Speed Metabolism

Despite all of the carb-cutting trends out there, both population studies and ongoing research continue to show the association between whole grains, weight management and better health. One of the two new pieces of research from the March 2017 study sheds some light on the whole grain health connection by revealing how whole grains can boost the metabolism and promote greater evacuation of the bowels, which promotes greater weight loss.

3. Whole Grains Reduce Mortality

Yes, it’s true: a 2016 meta-analysis published in Advances in Nutrition showed that each additional three servings of whole grains per day was associated with a 25% lower mortality from heart disease and that a greater consumption of total whole grains was associated with lower mortality from all other causes, including cancers.

4. Ancient Grains are Making a Comeback

When it comes to grains, there are many to choose from. But we have our favorites of course. Given that many people, for a variety of reasons, are avoiding gluten, many of the “ancient,” non-gluten whole grains such as quinoa, maize, and buckwheat have been resurrected to rave reviews. Oats are a whole grain that’s rich in soluble fiber and one that helps to regulate blood sugars and LDL cholesterol. Maize/Corn is not only rich in helpful prebiotic plant material, but also phytochemicals, B vitamins like thiamin and niacin, anti-oxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, as well as important minerals like magnesium, iron and selenium.  Quinoa is gluten-free and gut-microbiome-improving. It’s also a nutrient-dense, high protein whole grain that contains all nine of the essential amino acids.  Buckwheat, which is technically a seed rather than a grain, is, like corn, strong in B vitamins and magnesium and features helpful phytochemicals.

There are other benefits to putting whole grains front and center in your diet, from the joys of chewy and light buckwheat pancakes for breakfast to the pleasures in our piquant “Smokey Bean Tacos with Corn” for lunch (see Sample Menu 3).

What are some ways you can get more of this superfood?


Contributed by

Carra Richling
Registered Dietitian

Eat well, be well!

Better Health Begins With You...

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