Whole grains play a key role in a heart-healthy, anti-cancer diet. They're loaded with fiber, as well as a host of other healthy nutrients. Refined grains have been stripped of their bran and germ, and thus most of their fiber and many of their nutrients. While refined flour may be enriched with some vitamins and minerals, and sometimes even fiber, not all of the nutrients are replaced.
Why does it matter? One recent study showed that women who ate whole grains, rather than refined ones, reduced their risk of heart attack by 30%. The fiber protects against colon cancer, and whole grains help control blood sugar and may help prevent Type 2 diabetes.
Read labels on the breads, cereals, and pasta you buy. Look for the word "whole" before "wheat"; it should be listed as the first ingredient. Oats are always whole, no matter whether they're old-fashioned, instant, fine-cut, or coarse-cut. Oatmeal bread, however, is another matter. The first ingredient in oatmeal bread is generally refined wheat flour, with oats so far down the list that there aren't enough of them to supply a meaningful amount of bran or fiber.
Brown and wild rice are whole grains; white rice is refined. Don't be fooled by words like enriched, unbleached, bromated, stone-ground, granulated, 100% wheat; rye, pumpernickel, multi-grain, 7-grain, semolina, or organic. These products may contain little or no whole grains. To know whether the product you buy contains whole grain, read the label. If the first ingredient is whole-wheat flour, oats, brown rice, or whole-rye flour, you're getting what you need.
To add variety to your diet, try barley, which is a rich source of antioxidants and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. One cup of cooked barley has 5.9 grams of fiber. Bulgur - wheat kernels that have been steamed, dried, and crushed - provides vitamin E and other antioxidant compounds. Bulgur also has a low glycemic index to keep blood sugar levels stable and contains twice as much fiber as an equal portion of oatmeal.
Whole-wheat couscous and pasta have 3-3½ times more fiber than the white (refined) varieties. Brown rice has ten times more fiber than white rice and is loaded with complex carbohydrates and B vitamins. Quinoa, a chewy, nutty-tasting grain, is packed with protein, lysine (an amino acid that helps tissues grow and repair themselves) and blood-building iron. Because it is so rich in nutrients, quinoa is often referred to as the supergrain of the future.
UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, Jan-99