Unveiling The Hidden Gems: 5 Lesser-Known Benefits Of Whole Grains

Co-authored by Charlotte Martin, MS, RDN, LDN, CSOWM, CPT and Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD

Grains have been a staple in human diets for centuries, providing sustenance, nutrition, and versatility to countless cultures across the globe. While the health benefits of whole grains are widely recognized, there are several hidden advantages that might not be as commonly acknowledged. From digestive health to healthy aging, grains offer a range of hidden gems that can significantly impact overall well-being. Let’s dive into the lesser-known benefits of incorporating grains into your diet.

Improved Digestive Health

One of the hidden benefits of grains is their positive impact on digestive health. Grains, especially whole grains, are packed with dietary fiber that aids in digestion by promoting regular bowel movements, preventing constipation. Fiber acts as a prebiotic, providing nourishment for beneficial gut bacteria. This, in turn, supports a healthy gut microbiome, which has been linked to improved digestion, enhanced immunity, and even positive effects on mental health. 

High fiber intake from whole grains has been suggested to have a protective effect against colorectal cancer. In fact, an average intake of three servings of whole grains per day was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer. 

Whole grains, such as whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, and oats, contain varying amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which support digestive health by maintaining regularity and how grains provide benefits of improved digestive health.

Enhanced Weight Management

When it comes to weight management, grains can be valuable allies. The fiber content in grains promotes a feeling of fullness, reducing overeating and helping to control calorie intake. Whole grains, in particular, have a lower glycemic index, meaning they cause a slower and steadier rise in blood sugar levels.  

Despite what you may have heard, carbohydrate-rich foods like whole grains can be your ally when it comes to weight management—they will neither “make you fat,” nor will they prevent you from losing fat should you want to. Whole grain foods have little to no added sugar, retain their fiber, and may even be a good source of protein. 

In fact, an average intake of three servings of whole grains per day was linked with lower BMI and less belly fat. And randomized controlled trials involving an increase in the intake of whole grains showed a reduction in bodyweight. Grains can help curb cravings and prevent energy crashes, making it easier to maintain a balanced diet and manage weight effectively. 

Increased Energy Levels

Grains, as a primary source of carbohydrates, play a crucial role in providing the body with energy. The complex carbohydrates found in grains are digested more slowly than simple sugars, providing a steady and sustained release of energy. This is especially beneficial for maintaining energy levels throughout the day, supporting physical activity, and preventing the energy spikes and crashes associated with refined sugars.

Whole grain foods supply carbohydrates, which are converted to energy that every cell in your body needs for peak function.  Whole grains are also a source of B vitamins which the body requires to harness the energy stored in the carbohydrate you eat and turn it into fuel. Whole grains provide fiber, which keeps blood glucose levels steady, and helps prevent dips in energy levels. Carbohydrates are the best source of energy for your brain and your muscles, and an insufficient intake can leave you feeling foggy, unable to focus, and low on motivation to be physically active.

Better Heart Health

Whole grains have been linked to improved heart health in numerous studies. They contain heart-protective nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, and plant sterols. These components work together to reduce cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases.  

It’s estimated that 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through healthy behaviors, like being active, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet that is full of plant foods, like whole grains. 

Also, more whole grains was also associated with a higher HDL (good cholesterol) level and lower fasting blood triglyceride concentration, two factors that help reduce heart disease risk. 

Greater fiber intake in general is associated with lower body weight, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and improved blood sugar control in those with diabetes. Additionally, a diet rich in fiber can help reduce and prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol, triglycerides, or both), obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension just so happen to be the major diet-related and controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease and greater dietary fiber intake has been associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. By incorporating whole grains into your diet, you can make significant strides in promoting a healthier heart and reducing the risk of heart-related issues. 

Importance of Whole Grains and Healthy Aging

As we age, maintaining good health becomes increasingly vital. Whole grains play a vital role in healthy aging due to their rich nutritional profile. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to overall well-being. Whole grains have been associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, certain cancers, and cognitive decline. Including whole grains in your diet can contribute to longevity and a higher quality of life as you age. 

Everyone wants to feel their best, especially as they age. A 2021 study in The Journal of Nutrition in middle-age and older adults found the group who ate 3 or more servings of whole grains daily had lower blood fasting glucose levels, a smaller increase in waist size, and lower blood pressure over the four-year study period.

Grains offer more than just sustenance—they provide a wealth of hidden benefits that contribute to improved health and well-being. From promoting better digestion and weight management to enhancing energy levels, supporting heart health, and aiding in healthy aging, the advantages of grains extend far beyond their nutritional content. By incorporating a variety of whole grains into your diet, you can unlock these hidden gems and pave the way to a healthier and more vibrant life.