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Whole grains are an essential part of a diet, here's why

Whole grains have many important health benefits, and deserve at least a small (and special) place in a person’s diet.
by Keri Glassman, R.D. / / Source: TODAY

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High-fat, low-carb keto and lectin-eliminating paleo diets are still trending and it’s no wonder that whole grains have been getting more and more of a bad rap.

However, much of the not-so-nice views on whole grains come from misinformation or misunderstanding. Whole grains have many important health benefits, and deserve at least a small (and special) place in a person’s diet. So, what’s with the bad whole-grain vibes? Let’s dispel some common whole-grain woes.

1. Whole grains are not bad for your gut.

Whole grains are sometimes associated with being bad for your gut because they contain phytates and lectins, which are believed to cause inflammation and contribute to ineffective digestion.

Phytates can cause reduced absorption of some nutrients, but this is only something to worry about in places where people do not get their nutrients from diverse food sources such as underdeveloped countries. In short? This probably isn’t something you have to worry about.

People also worry about lectins because they are small, hard-to-digest proteins and have been shown to potentially accumulate in your body, leading to poor gut health. However, you can significantly reduce the amount of lectins you consume by soaking and cooking your grains — which you’re probably already doing without realizing it.

Whole grains are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which may help you lower bad cholesterol and regulate bowel movements. Not only that, but the fiber is actually good for your gut. Whole grains contain insoluble fiber that is indigestible, and instead fermented by gut microbiota. The end result of this fermentation is the production of the short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which are "major mediators’" in proper gut health.

2. While whole grains contain gluten, they also have a lot of beneficial ingredients.

Gluten is a protein found in whole grains such as wheat, rye and barley. And for people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, consumption is harmful to the small intestine, and should be avoided.

However, for people who don’t have an allergy or intolerance, whole grains are a source of fiber, iron and folate, among other crucial nutrients and can play a healthy role in the diet. Many of us actually rely on foods with gluten to meet our dietary needs for these nutrients. When grain products are absent from the diet, these vitamin and nutrients can be lacking.

Remember: Going for gluten-free packaged products doesn’t mean that they are any healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts. These products often contain even more unwanted and unhealthy additives than the whole-grain, gluten-containing options.

3. Whole grains contain good-for-you carbs.

Yes, whole grains do contain carbohydrates. So do vegetables, friends. Carbs are an essential macronutrient for survival, a must have for a healthy, energized and well fueled body. While they should be balanced with fat and protein in your overall diet, they shouldn’t be avoided altogether.

When getting your daily dose of carbohydrates, focusing on whole grains is a better choice than loading up on refined grains. This isn’t permission to go wild on brown rice or farro (grains can still be over consumed) but choosing these over white bread and rice is the much better option any day. Whole grains contain the bran, the germ and the endosperm of the plant, which means they are higher in fiber, vitamins and overall nutrient content compared to refined grains.

Even though grains get a bad rap, there isn’t much evidence that whole grains are harmful to your health. Unless of course, you over consume (all over-consumption of calories is unhealthy) or have an allergy or intolerance.

Keri Glassman is a registered dietitian, healthy cooking expert and published author. Follow her on Instagram!

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