There’s a “whole” host of information about wheat and grain spinning out there. Some of it is contradictory, which is stunning considering how much we know about grains and their effect on gut health. Low carb diets, high carb diets, debate over whole grain, multigrain, healthy white, fortified white.
Let me start by settling one myth right from the start. Grains are carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are the bad. While simple carbohydrates such as refined sugars are clearly not good for you, whole grains contain complex carbohydrates, which are great for your gut and overall health! Take it from someone who can pretty accurately predict your dietary habits just from examining your colon…what you eat is a big deal!
Please keep in mind that this information is pertinent to the majority of adults but if you have been diagnosed with a condition such as Celiac disease and recommended to avoid gluten, then grains such as wheat may be harmful for you. Gluten-free grains do exist, however, so read on.
Types of Grain
Wheat, oats, wild rice, rye, barley and many, many more are all types of grain. Some legumes like peanuts, soybeans and chickpeas are even considered grain foods as well.
“Whole,” as in whole wheat, implies the entire grain is used – the bran, germ, and endosperm. In comparison, in white breads, the bran and germ, are removed. Why does this make a difference? Whole grains provide a host of vitamins, protein and fiber. Whole grains improve gut health, fight constipation, and help prevent heart disease, stroke, and various types of cancer. Whole grains can even help you lose weight. White bread, on the other hand, carries little nutritional value and is basically “filler” and sugar.
When the word “multigrain” is used, it is easy to think that we’re getting some really great benefits – after all, many grains are better than just one! But while there are multiple grains, they all may not be “whole grains”. If that’s the case, these breads and other baked goods are not as good for you. At this point you might as well eat white.
What makes whole grains good?
Whole grains contain fiber – something our body alone does not have the enzymes to digest. When you eat a fiber rich meal, the fiber passes to the colon or large intestine where our gut bacteria or microbiota are able to break down and digest the fiber to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs are taken up by the colon cells and used for energy to fuel a healthy gut. These well fed “good bacteria” then grown in abundance and prevent growth of pathogenic bad bacteria that can cause infections. Eating a variety of grain types also helps maintain gut microbial diversity which has been associated with colon health. Research has even shown that a healthy gut with an abundance of healthy gut bacteria can help fight multiple diseases such as cancer, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and even Alzheimer’s. In my mind, there is no question that a healthy colon is the most important factor in one’s overall health.
Ancient, Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, Organic?
There’s no shortage of marketing different kinds of grains. And quite honestly, I’m not sure much of it truly matters, because in the end, if you’re eating refined carbs, you’re doing your gut a disservice and if you’re eating 100% whole grains, your colon will love you for it! Now, do I advocate for non-GMO, organic foods? Absolutely. But non-organic whole grains are better than organic, processed grains any day of the week. As for gluten-free, if you have a gluten sensitivity, have been diagnosed with Celiac disease or prefer the taste, choose GF grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet and oats. And finally, the ancient versus modern grain debate ultimately comes down to consumer preference. Do ancient grains have more nutrition? Possibly, but if so, not by much. Ultimately, a whole grain is a whole grain.
So how do you pick the right bread, oatmeal, rice? Look at the label. It should say 100% whole grain. Then check the ingredients. The first ingredient should have the world “whole.” For example, a slice of whole grain bread should provide 16-grams or whole grains – half of your daily recommended intake. Remember, ingredients and taglines like 100% wheat, high in fiber, healthier or multigrain don’t mean a whole lot. So head over to your grocery store and buy yourself a scrumptious whole wheat loaf and enjoy a sandwich today. Your gut bacteria will do a happy dance . . . I promise!