The Wonders of Whole Grains

Ever wonder why whole grains such as brown rice, millet, oats, wheat and so on are promoted so vigorously in macrobiotics? Besides the historical tradition that grains have been the principle food for every major culture, or if you prefer an energetic explanation that sees whole grains as a perfect balance of yin and yang and that within the seed of every grain is the potential for ten thousand grains. Or perhaps an even more unique explanation that whole grains are both seed and fruit-blending the energy of both the beginning and end of the life cycle. If these energetic or spiritual explanations don't satisfy you perhaps the latest modern research will. Investigation reveals that there are some very solid reasons for their value and inclusion in the daily diet.
Take for example the simple wheat berry. In a grain of wheat, 80 to 90% of all micronutrients are located in the bran and germ, the parts striped away to make white flour. Here's how whole wheat flour stacked up against the white flour.

Fiber --- 4 times more
Copper --- 2 times more
Magnesium --- 6 times more
Potassium --- 3 times more
Selenium --- 2 times more
Zinc --- 4 times more
Vitamin E --- 20 times more
All contain: Lignans, phenolic acids, phytic acid, tocotrienols

This information is from Walter Willett, M.D., head of the nutrition section of Harvard University's School of Public Health in Boston, we can now feel secure that diets high in refined carbohydrates are actually harmful. According to Dr. Willett, "We're seeing that whether you eat lots of refined grains or whole grains can make a major difference in you risk of several diseases."
The benefit of whole grains have been linked to many of the more prevalent illnesses that plague modern society. Here is the latest information.

Heart Disease

Iowa women who ate two or more servings of whole grain foods every day had 30% less risk of death from ischemic heart disease than women who ate three servings a week or less (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 68, 1998). An earlier study found that for each 10 gram increase in whole grain fiber per day, men had a 30% decrease in heart attack risk.


In a study of 65,000 nurses by Dr. Willett and his colleagues, the ones who ate the most white bread and other refined carbohydrates and the least whole grain cereal fiber had 2 1/2 times more risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (commonly known as adult onset diabetes) over six years of follow-up.

Colon Cancer

In Italy, people who ate the most whole grains had half as much colon cancer as those who ate the least whole grains over 13 years of follow-up. Diets higher in whole grain fiber help prevent chronic constipation, which itself has recently been linked to double the risk of colon cancer.

Breast Cancer

Though some studies find no connection, a recent study in Italy discovered that women with breast cancer ate more bread, cereal, cakes, and dessert-all of which, the researchers pointed out, are usually made in Italy from refined grains. Diets high in wheat bran have been linked to lower rates of breast cancer.

Refined vs. Whole Grains

All refined grain and flour products were whole at one time. Many people do not know that all white rice was brown rice before the refining process. Compared to refined carbohydrates, whole grains carry substantially more nutrients. That's because they retain invaluable parts of the grain kernel called the bran and the germ. In the bran and germ we find many of the most important elements beneficial for the human body.


Fiber fights constipation. It's fermented by bacteria in the colon to a fatty acid that arrests the growth of colon cancer cells in test tubes. Wheat fiber lowers levels of estrogen in women, which may reduce breast cancer risk. Soluble fiber such as oat bran lowers cholesterol.


Plant chemicals (phytochemicals) found in whole grains contain antioxidants such as vitamin E, phenolic acids, phytic acid, tocotrienols. These keep free radicals in check, which helps prevent heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.


These chemicals are precursors to weak forms of estrogen in the body and are linked to lower rates of breast cancer.

Trace Minerals

Important minerals such as zinc and selenium are found in whole grains. These stimulate the immune system and participate in antioxidant reactions.

After years of eating whole grains on a daily basis most consumers will agree that, with or without scientific evidence, you just feel better when whole grains are a major factor in your diet. And if you are lucky enough to have learned how to cook, you probably just enjoy their wonderful taste. Bon appetit!

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