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Whole grains add more than carbs and calories to a diet

George Wesley & Bonita Dannells

An estimated 20 to 30 percent of the population has trended toward gluten-free products in an attempt to avoid whole grains these days. According to Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic, people who are not gluten intolerant should eat those whole grains for their many different health advantages.

This week on “Take Care,” Hensrud, the medical director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program and editor of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller, “The Mayo Clinic Diet,” talks about what whole grains are and their benefits.

Grains have three main parts to them. There’s the endosperm; the white starchy component; the bran, which contains a fiber and some nutrients; and then there’s the germ, which has a little bit of fat in it and as well as some nutrients.

A whole grain contains all three of these parts, where a refined grain has had the bran and germ removed. Those refined grains, such as white flour, do have some nutrients added back in but not all of them and not in the correct concentrations.

Popular whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice and oatmeal.

For those who love snacks such as Wheat Thins, which are marketed at times as being whole grain, Hensrud said they can be just as good as a whole grain like brown rice. It just depends on the amount of processing.

“The main difference there is the particle size, and grains that are ground up are absorbed a little bit faster, but providing they contain all three parts, the overall health benefits are still there,” he said. “When they’re ground up, they may raise blood glucose just a little bit. But, overall, if you’re consuming whole grains that’s much better than refined grains.”

Whole grains like quinoa and amaranth have become it foods and Hensrud said those are good alternatives to some other grains. Studies have shown very low-carb diets still keep some carbohydrates in their plans.

“It’s recommended that most people get 50 to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates, including whole grains, and even on a low-carb diet people usually eat about 30 to 35 percent,” Hensrud said.

Nowadays, Hensrud said the dip in gluten intake has been part of the shift towards high fat, low carb diets. Gluten, which is actually a protein in grains, has become “the bad guy.”

For those looking to lose weight or cut down on body fat, the doctor recommends finding a diet that fits your lifestyle and food preferences.

“Eat whole grains in general,” Hensrud said, “if you like those things great, but whatever diet you’re following it should be practical, it should be enjoyable and therefore it’s sustainable long term.”