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Whole Grains in a Vegetarian Diet

Whole grains are part of any healthy lifestyle and offer a lot of nutrients and health benefits to a vegetarian diet. Examples of whole grains are brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, barley, amaranth and oatmeal.

There are many benefits to consuming whole grains. Consumption of whole grains helps reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Whole grains facilitate healthy bowel movements due to their high fiber content. Insoluble fiber pushes things along so food wastes, along with toxins and carcinogens do not sit in the colon and putrefy. Whole grains can help with weight loss too. The high fiber content leads to feeling full sooner so fewer calories are consumed. Whole grains that are rich in soluble fiber, e.g., oats, lower LDL, known as the bad cholesterol.

How much fiber do we need to eat? The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends a minimum of 20-35 grams a day. The ADA tells us the average consumer is only eating 14 to 15 grams a day. The American Heart Association’s recommendations for fiber are 35 grams a day. A cup of whole grain pasta contains 6 grams of fiber as does a cup of cooked barley.

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines at least half of all grains consumed should be whole grain.  This works out to 3-5 servings of whole grains a day. What constitutes a serving? Examples of whole grain serving sizes are: 1 slice bread, ½ cup cooked brown rice or other cooked grain and ½ cup oatmeal or other hot cereal.

What is the difference between whole grains and enriched (refined) grains? Enriched grains are grains which have been milled removing the bran and germ layer, stripping the grain of many nutrients including fiber. Five nutrients are added back to enriched grains. They are thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), iron and folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Folate is found naturally in whole grains and leafy greens.

A brief comparison of the nutrient content of whole grains versus enriched grains shows the superiority of whole grains. After the grain is milled only a certain percentage of the original nutrients are left. These are not added back in. The nutrients are: vitamin E 7 %, B-6 13%, magnesium 16%, fiber 22%, zinc 24%, potassium 26%, copper 38% and selenium 48%.

Folic acid supplementation is a concern. The amount of folic acid added to enriched grains is extremely high. The milled grain retains only 59% of the original folate. After supplementation the folic acid content increases to 416%.

According to Dr. John McDougall, a well- known and respected lifestyle medicine physician, refined grains fortified with folic acid cause imbalances and overloads, with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer resulting from consuming over 1 mg. a day. This is another reason to consume as many whole grains as possible, reducing the consumption of enriched grains.

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