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NUTRITION CORNER: The importance of whole grain foods in our daily diet

There are many reasons why health-conscious people choose whole grain foods such as oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice, whole-wheat flour and whole wheat bread over refined grain foods.

Whole grains are those unrefined grains that haven’t had their brand and germ removed. Refined grains on the other hand are those that have been milled and in the process, the bran and germ have been stripped out to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life.

Typical whole grain cereal foods are low in saturated fats but are sources of polyunsaturated fats, including omega 3 linolenic acid, which is believed to be good for the heart. Whole grains are also excellent sources of both soluble and insoluble fibers, which provide important health benefits, from preventing gastrointestinal disorders to promoting normal bowel. These products also promote satiety, help control serum cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

While not all whole grains are good sources of fiber, whole wheat contains the highest amount of fiber among the whole grains and brown rice contains the least amount of fiber. But B-complex vitamins, including folate, are present in all whole grains. Folate  is needed in the formation of all body cells.

Whole grains are also rich sources of many minerals, including iron, magnesium, copper, phosphorus and zinc. They also have antioxidants, including vitamin E and selenium, as well as phytochemicals including flavonoids and phytic acid which can prevent coronary heart disease, digestive system disease, diabetes, obesity and many different types of cancer.

A study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Human Nutrition Research Center revealed that those who consumed at least three 1-ounce-equivalent servings of whole grain foods per day were less likely to have the “metabolic syndrome”, a condition marked by a combination of abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and poor blood sugar control – all of which increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease.

Based on the 2000 Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos, an individual can increase fiber intake by eating a variety of high fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas, whole grain bread, oatmeal and other whole grain cereals and pasta.

With so much health benefits that we can derive from whole grain foods, they should always be included in our daily diet. (Reference: Dr. Imelda A. Agdeppa, DOST Scientist, Facts about Whole Grains)