We Indians have a cereal-based staple diet. Cereals have been a part of our diet for ages. The majority of the portion of our meals contains cereals like wheat roti or rice or millet roti. But over a period of time, healthy whole grains have been replaced with easy-to-eat and easy-to-cook refined cereals. So, it is time to re-visit and understand the importance of whole grains in our diet for its multiple benefits.
A] What are whole grains? How to distinguish whole grains?
Seeds of grass-like plants and non-grass-like plants are called cereals. Wheat, rice, and corn are grass-like plant seeds, whereas buckwheat, quinoa, oats, and amaranth are non-grass-like seeds. Millets like bajra, jowar and ragi are also considered whole grains.
Whole grains have three different layers;
- Bran: Bran is the hard outer cover consisting of fiber, minerals and antioxidants
- Endosperm: Endosperm is the middle layer made up of the carbohydrates
- Germ: Germ is the innermost layer consisting of vitamins, minerals, protein and plant compounds
These grains need to be rolled, crushed or cracked before you eat. There are different varieties of products made from whole grains like bread, pasta, breakfast cereals or flour. Refined grains, on the other hand, lack germ and bran, making them nutrient-deficient.
B] Benefits of whole grains in the diet
- High in nutrients: Since the germ layer is intact in whole grains, it maintains a high level of nutrients. It contains vitamin B complex, minerals, protein, and antioxidants.
- High fiber: The bran maintains the fiber content of the whole grain. This high fiber content helps to relieve gastric issues, aids weight loss, reduces fats, maintains blood sugar, and also provides prebiotics to the body.
- Lower the risk of heart disease: Whole grain and its products help to reduce the fat absorption from the food. It also helps reduce cholesterol. Replace refined products with whole grain, like replace white bread with multigrain or millet bread. It also lowers the risk of stroke because of fiber, vitamin K, and antioxidants present in the germ layer.
- Aids weight loss: The fiber content of the whole grains keeps you full for a longer period. The extra time taken to chew the whole grains leads to less food intake and indirectly helps cut down calories for weight loss. Whole grains in 1 meal makes sure that you do not binge eat in the next meal, which again helps in weight loss.
- Controls blood sugar: The fiber content in whole grains reduces insulin sensitivity and lowers glucose load in the blood. It also helps lower sweet cravings.
- Relieves gastric issues: Whole grains provide the necessary fiber to relieve constipation. It also provides prebiotics for better gut health. Whereas, the nutrients in the germ help in better digestion and absorption of food.
- Reduce chronic inflammation: Inflammation in the body leads to chronic diseases. The antioxidants in whole grains help to reduce inflammation.
- Anticancer properties: The nutrients preserved in the whole grains can help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
C] Healthy cereals that you can include in your daily diet
- Whole wheat: It is a versatile grain, which you can use in pasta, noodles, bread or other baked products. You can use whole wheat flour to make chapatis or broken wheat to make upma.
- Brown rice: Brown rice has a low GI, which helps in weight loss and controls blood sugar. Replace white rice with brown rice for better gut health.
- Oats: Oats are high in beta-glucan, which helps to control blood sugar, reduce cholesterol and aid weight loss. You can use it in porridge, smoothie, upma, muesli or granola.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is a super-food, high in protein and fiber, which aids in weight loss. You can use quinoa in porridge, smoothies, breakfast cereals or bites, salads, or khichdi.
- Multigrain or millet bread: It is time to upgrade your white bread with nutrient-dense, fortified, high-fiber multigrain or millets bread.
- Millets: The bajra, jowar and nachni can replace the rice or wheat chapatti for their high fiber, protein, vitamins and mineral content. It helps in weight loss, improves cardiac function and relieves digestive issues.
- Breakfast cereals: With busy schedules, working moms can switch to breakfast cereals fully loaded with nutrients for an energetic day.
Whole grains are less processed compared to refined grains. Healthy cereals are also a better option for good health. Thus, switch to whole grains to reduce cholesterol, maintain blood sugar, improve cardiac health and lose weight.