Why wholegrain is the best choice

Wholegrains offer many nutritional benefits over their refined counterparts and OMS recommends a wholefood approach that includes these wholegrains. A diet rich in wholegrain foods has multiple benefits on the body including nourishing the gut microbiome (healthy bacteria), providing essential nutrients including fibre and maybe even helping to control the inflammatory pathways in the body.

wholegrain food

If you can start by making one change to your diet, choosing wholegrains over refined carbohydrates is a great place to start.  Most of us do not eat enough wholegrains but health experts recommend three portions per day.   

A wholegrain contains: 

  • a fibre-rich outer layer – the bran 

  • a nutrient-packed inner part – the germ 

  • a central starchy part – the endosperm. 

During the milling or refining process the bran and the germ are often removed to give a ‘whiter’ cereal grain. Picture a grain of rice for example – a brown wholegrain variety, versus a white refined grain. Milling to make flour can also remove some of the of the nutritional content. Products made with these refined grains may also contain added sugar or salt. 

Since most of the nutrients in grains are contained in the outer bran layer and germ of the seed, this explains why 'wholegrains' can contain up to 75% more nutrients than the refined grains and cereals. 

Wholegrains provide: 

  • Fibre 

  • B vitamins including folic acid 

  • Essential fatty acids (omega-3 fats & omega 6 fats) 

  • Protein 

  • Antioxidants including vitamin E and selenium 

  • Micronutrients like copper and magnesium 

  • Phytochemicals (plant chemicals) which have many health benefits. 

Replacements 

Instead of: 

  • White rice -> choose brown, black, red or wild rice 

  • Pasta -> choose brown or wholewheat pasta 

  • Couscous -> choose quinoa or wholewheat couscous 

  • White bread -> choose rye bread, wholewheat bread, wholegrain spelt or wholegrain crackers 

  • Potato crisps -> popcorn (airpopped) 

Many of these options should be available from your local grocery shop or supermarket. If you visit a health food shop you may get some other options too.  

Alongside wheat, other wholegrains include:  

  • Ancient grains such as spelt, freekeh, kamut, amaranth, teff 

  • Pot barley 

  • Buckwheat  

  • Bulgar wheat 

  • Cornmeal or polenta 

  • Farro  

  • Millet 

  • Oats (whole, eg jumbo / steel cut & oat bran) 

  • Rye flakes 

  • Quinoa and quinoa flakes  

Tip: Choose bread made from an unrefined, wholegrain flour. Labelling can be deceptive; loaves labelled multigrain or granary does not guarantee that the bread is wholegrain, so always check the ingredient list to confirm. 

Your Gut Microbiome 

The fibre that wholegrains contain is an important prebiotic – food for probiotic bacteria. This means that whilst the fibre is indigestible to us, it actually passes to the gut where it feeds the beneficial bacteria that there, enabling their colonies to diversify, and grow. Having a robust population of these friendly gut bacteria not only crowd out the more harmful or inflammatory species, but also help to keep us healthy by supporting immune function and controlling inflammation in the digestive the system and elsewhere in the body. A major cause of chronic inflammation in the gut is a lack of prebiotic fibre. All plant-based foods contain fibre, and including wholegrains will help you to get enough fibre in your diet. 

Reducing Inflammatory Diseases 

A report from the Iowa Women’s Health Study has linked wholegrain consumption with  fewer deaths from inflammatory and infectious causes (excluding cardiac and cancer causes). Examples of conditions that benefit from increased fibre include rheumatoid arthritis, gout, asthma, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and neurodegenerative diseases. Compared with women who rarely or never ate wholegrain foods, those women who had at least two or more servings a day were 30% less likely to have died from an inflammation-related condition over a 17-year period. 

The immune system in people with multiple sclerosis shifts towards a proinflammatory expression. Avoiding simple carbohydrates such as sugar and refined foods such as white bread, white rice, white potatoes, and white pasta will reduce oxidation – damage to the body’s cells. A diet rich in these simple, refined carbohydrates will promote the inflammatory processes in the body, ultimately leading to oxidative stress (damage to cells) and brain inflammation. 

There is increasing research into MS and your microbiome.

Other Health Benefits of Wholegrains 

  • Low in fat but rich in fibre these carbohydrates have a low glycaemic index (GI). This means they provide a slow release of carbohydrate (energy) into the blood which, thanks to the fibre content, will help keep you feeling fuller for longer, reducing the need for snacking and so controlling the appetite. 

  • Can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 32%.  

  • Can reduce cholesterol, both total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). 

  • Can reduce blood pressure. 

  • Can reduce the risk of developing some cancers of the digestive system, such as bowel cancer. Fibre enables the bulk, and this moves food through the digestive tract more quickly and easily, reducing the time that damaging substances (toxins) are in contact with the gut wall. 

Encourage friendly bacteria in your gut by also including: 

  • Probiotic foods - fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, dairy-free yoghurts   

  • Alliums – chive, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots, spring onions 

  • Beans and legumes - chickpeas, lentils, borlotti beans, cannellini beans etc 

Introduce these foods slowly if you haven't tried them before; start with a teaspoon and build up gradually to avoid wind – the product of your gut bacteria getting excited!  

18 May 2021


References 

  1. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/wholegrains.html 

  1. Jacobs DR, Jr., Andersen LF, Blomhoff R. Whole-grain consumption is associated with a reduced risk of noncardiovascular, noncancer death attributed to inflammatory diseases in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85:1606-14. 

  1. de Munter JS, Hu FB, Spiegelman D, Franz M, van Dam RM. Whole grain, bran, and germ intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study and systematic review. PLoS Med. 2007;4:e261. 

  1. How to Build a Healthy Brain – Kimberley Wilson 

  1. https://msfocus.org/Magazine/Magazine-Items/Posted/Reducing-Inflammation-in-Multiple-Sclerosis,-Natur 

  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/#:~:text=In%20a%20study%20of%20more,who%20rarely%20ate%20whole%20grains.