By now, most of us know that, if we are going to eat grains — the most common of which is wheat — we should opt for whole instead of refined. During the process of refining wheat to create white flour, the wheat is stripped of its germ and bran, which are the most nutritious parts of the grain. What’s left behind is a product that has little to no nutritional value.
Refined wheat also lacks all-important fiber, particularly insoluble fiber, which aids digestion by adding bulk to stool and helping to speed it through your stomach and intestines. As such, insoluble fiber prevents constipation and irregularity.
Also, generally speaking, lack of fiber in the diet causes carbohydrates to be more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing major blood sugar spikes, followed by huge energy drops. This is the main reason the regular consumption of refined grains can contribute to diabetes, while whole grains can actually reduce the risk of it.
Along with these benefits, research has confirmed that whole grains can lower the risk of two of the most common and feared diseases of this generation: cancer (especially colorectal) and cardiovascular disease.
But that’s not all. Researchers in Denmark recently discovered that whole grains play a role in reducing body fat in overweight or obese postmenopausal women. Exciting news for those fighting “middle-age spread” that often occurs once menopause takes hold.
In this 14-week study, researchers followed 72 overweight or obese postmenopausal women, all of whom had their weight, height, waist circumference, blood pressure, fasting glucose and cholesterol measured at the beginning of the study.
In addition to following an energy-restricted diet, the participants were randomly selected to consume either refined wheat or whole wheat products for 12 weeks after an initial two-week run-in period, during which everyone was provided with refined wheat products to eat. Regardless of the type of wheat they were eating during the intervention, each participant was instructed to consume 62 g of bread, 60 g of pasta and 28 g of biscuits every day.
Results showed that both groups experienced a reduction in body weight, body mass index and waist circumference, but the whole wheat group had much greater loss in total fat mass than the refined wheat group (-3% versus -2.1%, respectively). The loss of central fat mass (belly fat) was most apparent (-3.9% for the whole wheat group versus -2.8% for the refined wheat group).
Blood pressure and fasting glucose levels between both groups did not differ. But as for cholesterol, the refined wheat group saw a 5.6% increase in total cholesterol and a 5.3% increase in LDL. In contrast, the whole wheat group experienced no changes in cholesterol.
Whole Grains for Whole Health
This study further confirms that refined grains really have no place in a healthy diet — and this rings especially true if you are overweight and would like to lose excess fat around your mid-section.
Whole grains are definitely a healthy choice for most people. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone can tolerate the consumption of grains — especially grains that contain gluten, like wheat, barley and rye. If you are sensitive or allergic to gluten, avoid these grains entirely. Other whole grain options that are gluten-free include quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, teff and millet.
 Hu EA et al. White rice consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: meta-analysis and systematic revew. BMJ. 2012 Mar 15;344:e1454.
 Heikkila HM et al. Dietary associations with prediabetic states — the DR’s EXTRA study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jul;66(7):819–24.
 Aune D et al. Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2011 Nov 10;343:d6617.
 Tighe P et al. Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Oct;92(4):733–40.
 Kristensen M et al. Whole grain compared with refined wheat decreases the percentage of body fat following a 12-week, energy-restricted dietary intervention in postmenopausal women. J Nutr. 2012 Apr;142(4):710–6.