Don’t Go Carb-Free! Go Whole Grain!
One of the most popular diet trends right now is to shun grain-based carbohydrates. Grain-based products can indeed induce high blood sugar if they are highly processed products, and when consumed in large quantities, can cause weight gain and possibly raise your risk of developing insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and ultimately Type 2 diabetes. It’s important to focus on “highly processed or white carbs” when making the recommendations to steer clear. In fact, a new study suggests that whole grains have a big health payoff, namely, reducing risk of chronic disease.
The new research identifies a strong link between eating whole grains and lowering your risk of chronic diseases. It also supports the new Dietary Guidelines’ recommendations that consumers shift their current “white and processed” grain choices, to healthier whole grains.
Whole grains contain fiber. Fiber reduces post-prandial glucose and insulin responses, which leads to better glycemic control. This can help to lower pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes risk. Fiber also helps to reduce cholesterol concentration in the blood. This may help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Fiber seems to reduce cancer risk by helping to remove damaged cells from the digestive tract, increasing stool bulk and diluting carcinogens. Fiber also helps maintain gut microbe balance, which may help to reduce the risk of developing obesity. Of course, eating whole grains and allowing them to swap out for less healthy grain-based foods may also help to lower the risk of developing some of these chronic diseases.
The meta-analysis reviewed 45 published studies on how whole grain consumption relates to health outcomes and mortality. The analysis of the studies included more than 7000 cases of heart disease, 2000 cases of stroke, 26,000 cases of heart disease, 34,000 deaths from cancer and 100,000 deaths from 700,000 patients. Whole grain consumption was associated with reductions in the relative risk of each of these conditions and with the risk of death from cancer and all causes.
Specifically, subjects who ate 90 grams of whole grains daily, about three servings daily, had a 19% drop in coronary heart disease, 22% drop in heart disease, 14% reduction in mortality from strokes, 15% drop in cancer risk and incidents of respiratory disease fell 22%. Diseases associated with infection dropped by 26% and diabetes fell by 51%.
Researchers do point to some weaknesses in the meta-analysis. Some of the 45 studies were missing key intake (quantity) information on whole grains. There also seemed to be limiting endpoints on some disease-related deaths (diabetes, infectious diseases). Still the message seems to be quite clear. Americans probably eat too many of the wrong types of carbohydrates. Switching to fruits, vegetables and whole grains would likely help to improve overall health profiles and limits some common chronic lifestyle-related diseases.
Some good whole grain choices include:
• Brown rice
• Bulgur (cracked wheat)
• Whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers
• Wild rice
If you do choose a processed whole grain food, make sure that the whole grain ingredient is the first ingredient on the nutrition label. That means the whole grain content is significant.