Grains: Friend or Foe?

Are Grains Evil?Are grains evil? Muahahaha….. Of course not! But, You might think so considering that some folks have black-listed this whole food group from their diet. But, the question begs some discernment regarding the health concerns or benefits of whole grains versus their refined counter parts.

What is the difference between refined grains and whole grains?

In a word, processing. The difference between whole grains and refined grains is night and day from nearly every perspective —the sensory (taste, texture, smell, appearance) to the logistical (shelf-life, cooking requirements, etc.).

How are whole grains processed?

Milling breaks the grains into pieces and refining sifts away the bran and germ. Together, these account for most of the fiber, oil, and B vitamin contained in whole grains, as well as about 25% of the protein. What is left is the starchy endosperm. Goodbye health benefits. Hello long shelf-life and blood sugar expressway.

So, it is the refined grains which have given grains overall a bad rep. Thank you very much, media.This is a shame considering the culinary flexibility and sheer satisfaction whole grains offer, not to mention the many health benefits.

What are the health benefits of grains?

Thanks for asking! Whole grains are one of the only food groups, along with legumes, which contain all the major nutrient groups needed by our bodies: carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are also high in phytochemicals as well as several B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and copper. No wonder almost all cultures have adopted a specific grain as a dietary staple and focus of their rituals.

Want to avoid chronic disease? Get your grain on!

Whole grains are more than a comfort food. They are your friend in combatting a variety of chronic diseases. Consumption of whole grain products in general and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, obesity, childhood asthma and premature death. Wow!

Even if you don’t love gains —your heart does! In many studies, eating whole grains has shown to improve cardiovascular health, providing protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, high blood pressure and heart attack. In fact, Harvard researchers found that among 21,376 participants in the 19.6 years of the Physicians Health Study, that men who consumed a daily morning bowl of whole grain (but not refined) cereal had a 29% lower risk of heart failure.

Who doesn’t love grains?

Companies selling blood pressure medication may not be in the grain fan club. According to an analysis of multiple randomized drug trials, taking blood pressure lowering medication for high blood pressure may reduce the risk of getting a heart attack by 15% and the risk of getting a stroke by about 25%. Impressive!

But, as noted by Dr. Michael Greger, research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that we may achieve similar benefits, reduced risk of getting a heart attack by 15% and the risk of getting a stroke by about 25% by eating just 3 portions of whole grains a day. No drugs. No side effects. Go grains!


Wood, Rebecca.The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York:  Penguin Group, 2010.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004.

Law MR, Morris JK, Wald NJ. Use of blood pressure lowering drugs in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of 147 randomised trials in the context of expectations from prospective epidemiological studies. BMJ. 2009 May 19;338:b1665.

Tighe P, Duthie G, Vaughan N, Brittenden J, Simpson WG, Duthie S, Mutch W, Wahle K, Horgan G, Thies F. Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Oct;92(4):733-40.

Michael Greger, MD – Nutrition Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs. (Accessed October 8, 2015)

Are you a fan of whole grains?
Do you feel they are a healthy part of your diet?
Which are your favorite?

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