(Along with their “Sidekicks:” Oat Bran, Wheat Germ, Ground Flaxseed Meal, Brown Rice, Wild Rice, Barley, Wheat, Buckwheat, Rye, Millet, Bulgar Wheat, Amaranth, Quinoa, Triticale, Kamut, Yellow Corn, Spelt, and Couscous)
A source of:
- Beta glucan
- Low calories
A 2007 review of the literature relating to the effect of whole grains on coronary heart disease in clinical intervention trials found evidence for a protective benefit limited mainly to whole-grain oats. The consumption of oatmeal or oat bran, for even short periods, has been shown in the majority of studies to reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels, which are two of the primary risk factors for coronary heart disease. In addition, oats have been shown to improve the function of the cells that line the blood vessels, when consumed with vitamin C and E, and to reduce blood pressure.
Oats contain more than twenty unique polyphenol compounds not found in other grains. These comounds have been shown in animal studies to increase the antioxidant enzyme systems in skeletal muscle, the liver, and the kidneys; to enhance the production of glutathione antioxidant enzyme systems in the skeletal muscle and the heart; and to decrease the production of free radicals during exercise.
In summary, oat consumption keeps the heart healthy by lowering total and LDL cholesterol, suppressing inflammation, relaxing arteries, and inhibiting abnormal muscle-cell growth in the vascular system. The antiproliferative effect of oats on colon cells may also reduce the risk of colon cancer. Finally, it has been known for centuries that oats have an anti-irritation effect on the skin. So if your mother told you to eat your oatmeal because it was good for you, she was right—again.
In addition to oats, all of the other whole grains are great sources of fiber, and a high-fiber diet is known to reduce inflammation, which in turn reduces the risk for many chronic diseases.
Quinoa is one of only two plant-based sources (the other is soy) of complete protein, which means that it contains all of the essential amino acids our bodies can’t manufacture for themselves.
In recent years, many people have eliminated bread from their diets in order to lose weight, but not all breads are created equal, and some breads are getting a bad wrap. Whole-grain bread is an important source of carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, iron, zinc and vitamin B1 , and it contains significant quantities of potassium, magnesium, niacin, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and folic acid.
A 2008 review analyzed the role of cereal grains in weight management and concluded that overall, whole-grain cereals were correlated with low Body Mass Index (BMI), low waist measurement, and a decreased rate of being overweight. The same article indicated that there is some evidence that a high intake of refined grains can cause minor increases in waist circumference in women. Epidemiological studies have clearly shown that whole-grain cereals can protect the body from obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
The specific effects of whole grains include increased satiety (the feeling of being full), decreased glycemic response, and reduced transit time through the gastrointestinal tract. In addition the magnesium in whole grains is essential for proper insulin action, and the wide array of anticarcinogenic, antioxidant functions of the bioactive compounds found in the germ and the bran are well recognized as protective.
In short, whole-grain bread does not appear to be correlated with weight gain, and, in fact, it may actually be beneficial to weight status in addition to its other health benefits.
*This brief summary contains copyrighted material from SuperFoods HealthStyle by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews. Copyright © 2006 by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews Inc., published by HarperCollins; and from SuperFoods Rx For Pregnancy by Steven Pratt, M.D. Copyright © 2013 by SuperFoods Partners, LLC, published by Wiley. All rights reserved.