In last week’s article, Glorious Grains, we discussed a variety of grains and the benefits of each. Whole grains are generally regarded as an important part of a healthy diet; however not all whole grains may be suitable for all people. In part two of this two-part series, we discuss the benefits of whole grains, as well as how to determine whether they are the right choice for you. Grains have been a source of confusion for years. A common question many people have is whether they are actually good or bad to consume. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer; however, the goal of this article is to provide some information to help you further explore options to discover what may be best for you.

It is important to understand the human body needs carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are used by the body for energy. The USDA recommends that 45% to 65% of your total calories come from carbohydrates. Whole grains are considered “complex” carbohydrates and an important source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In addition to whole grains, sweet potatoes, squash, beans, and fruits are all significant sources of carbohydrates. The carbohydrates we need to be more cautious about consuming are refined and processed carbohydrates, also known as “franken-foods.” These include white pasta, white bread, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods, which are considered “simple” carbohydrates and do not provide the same benefits as complex carbohydrates.

Some studies have shown that the intake of whole grain products, combined with a healthy diet and daily movement, is associated with reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, all of which are inflammatory diseases. One reason may be because of dietary phytochemicals found in whole grains, which have been associated with reduced risk of chronic disease. Plant sterols and stanols, which vary depending on the type of whole grain, may contribute to the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels. Refined wheat flower, however, loses 83% of beneficial phenolic acids, 79% total flavonoids, and large amounts of other components. Therefore, strive to eat whole grains when possible and avoid their refined alternatives.

Despite the health benefits of whole grains, there are some health concerns you should be aware of. The phytic acid in many whole grains has been known to decrease mineral absorption, especially zinc, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Phytic acid binds to the minerals in the gastrointestinal tract, unless reduced or nullified by soaking, sprouting and/or fermentation before cooking. Bound minerals may lead to mineral deficiencies and phytic acid, in particular, may inhibit the enzymes needed to digest food. Certain grains, like quinoa, only need to be rinsed, whereas others are better soaked overnight to release the phytic acid. Doing so may help improve digestibility in those who may be less tolerant of grains.

Gluten found in some grains (like wheat, rye, and barley) is another health concern for sensitive individuals. Wheat allergies, gluten sensitivity, and Celiac disease affects about 10% of the general population, although not everyone is aware they have an issue. There are more than 250 symptoms of gluten sensitivity, include bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort, brain fog, headaches, migraines, acne, fatigue, and bone or joint pain. Celiac disease can be diagnosed with an intestinal biopsy, whereas wheat/gluten allergies/sensitivities only require a simple blood or skin test. Diagnosing a gluten intolerance, however, has no official method of diagnosis, so it can be difficult to know if you have one. Gluten may not be the only offender in grains and some may find that elimination of other grains in their diet makes them feel better.

If you suspect you may have a gluten or grain sensitivity, you may wish to eliminate all grains for 7 days and then slowly reintroduce each one at a time, two days apart from each other. Before starting the elimination diet, take stock of your symptoms -- are you looking to clear up your skin or solve digestive issues? This will help set you up to notice important changes during the elimination. After 7 days of being grain-free, start reintroducing grains one at a time. For example, add brown rice back into your diet, wait two days, reintroduce oats, wait two days, and repeat. See how you feel over the 48-hour reintroduction phase. If you have no reaction, eat the same food again and notice how you feel; from there you can determine whether to reincorporate the food on a regular basis. Most importantly, pay attention to your symptoms. Notice how you feel -- maybe your skin clears up, your energy improves, or you’re not as bloated as you were the previous week. Noticing how you feel will be important in determining how you proceed with grains in the future.

Finally, if you’ve ever read the book, “Eat Right 4 Your Type” by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, you’ll know Dr. D’Adamo states that those with “O” blood types do not possess the digestive enzymes to process grains. Whether you believe in this theory or not, if you feel you do not digest grain very well, you may consider working with your health care provider to determine whether trying digestive enzymes with grain consumption may improve grain digestibility.

There are lots of misconceptions when it comes to whole grains -- are they good or bad for you? The answer is dependent upon each individual. Regardless of your preference for grains, be sure you consume a healthy balance of carbohydrates, which may include whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes.

By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Wellness Education Specialist


This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.