Published: Sunday April 21, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday June 14, 2013 MYT 8:31:59 PM

Wholesome grains

Whole grains benefit health in many ways.

DID you know that whole grains became a part of our diet over 10,000 years ago when man first discovered agriculture? It is a main source of energy and a staple diet in many societies around the world.

Grains in various forms can be found in different types of foods – rice, noodles, bread, pasta and many more.

Whole grains in its natural form are more nutritious. Not only is it rich in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, but it also offers various health benefits.

Refined grains, on the other hand, have been milled to remove the bran and germ from the grain, leaving only the endosperm. During the milling process, the majority of the nutrients such as vitamins and dietary fibre in the bran and germ are stripped out.

Sadly, many of us prefer to consume polished or refined grains rather than whole grain products as refined grains have a finer texture and an improved shelf life. What most of us are unaware is that whole grains have various benefits to offer.

Did you know?

A grain is the edible portion of the seed of a plant that is made up of three distinct parts: bran, endosperm and germ. A whole grain consists of all three parts of the grain.

Grains and their products are a food group that form the base of the Malaysian Food Pyramid. Being at the base, your daily diet should comprise adequate amounts of grains (eg rice, oats, wheat, barley) with a recommended four to eight servings.

The difference between whole grain and whole meal is that whole meal is finely milled, giving it a finer texture. Both however, contain the bran, germ and endosperm of the grain.

Common types of whole grains include unpolished rice, whole wheat, oats, corn, dehulled barley (not pearled barley) and rye.

Whole health benefits

The health benefits of whole grains include a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It also improves bowel health and weight management.

● Promotes bowel health

Whole grain foods have higher levels of dietary fibre, which can help regulate stool movement. Thus, bowel action becomes more frequent, and this helps to prevent constipation.

Whole grain foods have also been associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer and diverticular disease.

Some dietary fibre in whole grains (such as oligofructose and inulin) can function as prebiotics. They can help to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut while decreasing the levels of bad bacteria, thereby promoting gut health.

● Protects against cancers

Recent research has shown that a high consumption of whole grains may help reduce the risk of some cancers. The high antioxidant activity and protective effects of phytochemicals, vitamin E, trace minerals and high dietary fibre in whole grains play an important role in protecting against these cancers.

● Reduces risk of cardiovascular diseases

Various studies have consistently shown that consumption of whole grains may contribute in reducing the risk of heart disease. This is probably due to the presence of various components in whole grains, especially dietary fibre and some phytochemicals.

● Helps with weight management

Some studies have indicated that consuming whole grains can reduce the risk of obesity and weight gain. The dietary fibre found in whole grains helps to promote a feeling of fullness, which helps in curbing appetite and discourages overeating.

● Reduces risk of type 2 diabetes

Studies have shown that the risk of type 2 diabetes can be reduced by regular consumption of whole grains.

The effects may be due to dietary fibre, which is beneficial for weight management, an important aspect of diabetes control.

In addition, dietary fibre can also improve blood glucose control in people with diabetes.

The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines recommends choosing at least half of your grain foods from whole grains, and eating adequate amounts of rice, other cereal products (preferably whole grain) and tubers.

Now that you know the many health benefits of whole grains, you may want to incorporate them into your daily meals. It is not difficult to do. Here are some tips to help you along:

● Substitute or incorporate brown rice, whole grain pasta and whole grain noodles in daily cooking.

● Use wholemeal flour when cooking or baking your favourite breads, muffins, or cookies.

·Add whole grain, such as oats or wholemeal flour, to thicken soups and gravies instead of corn flour. Substitute the filling of muffins, cookies and cakes with whole grains and decorate using whole grain (eg oatmeal cheese cake).

● Bread chicken or fish with whole grain cereals, whole meal bread crumbs or oats.

The benefits of wholegrains are multiple, so try to incorporate them into your diet as often as possible. Don’t forget to also eat a balanced and varied diet in moderation, avoid smoking and alcohol abuse, and last but not least, get your daily dose of physical activity.

Prof Dr Norimah A. Karim is a nutritionist. This article is a courtesy of Malaysian Pediatric Association’s Positive Parenting Programme. The opinions expressed in the article are the view of the author. For further information, please visit The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Tags / Keywords: Health, wholegrain, benefits


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