In a world full of superfoods, pills, and miracle concoctions claiming to curb hunger and melt away belly fat, the consumer all-too-readily overlooks one food group that holds similar benefits. Whole grains are a healthy choice that can help you lose weight. They contain more nutrients and fiber than refined grains, so they are a key carbohydrate with weight loss benefits!
What is a Whole Grain?
Grains naturally have multiple layers. Untouched, unrefined grain – referred to as a kernel – contains the bran, germ, and endosperm inside of a harder, protective shell. The bran, germ, and endosperm are all edible and make up the “whole grain.” The bran is the outermost layer of the edible kernel and contains fiber and B vitamins. The germ is the reproductive part of the plant that contains B vitamins, healthy fats, and some protein. Lastly, the endosperm makes up the majority of the kernel and contains mostly proteins and starchy carbohydrates.
During the refining process, the bran and germ are removed to yield a milled, refined product consisting of starchy carbohydrates from the endosperm. This process does two things: it increases the grain’s shelf life and it gives it a finer texture characteristic of white flour-based products. Common refined grains include white rice, white flour, and degermed corn. During the refining process, the whole grain loses a quarter of its protein and the majority of seventeen different nutrients. A few are added back later, like iron and B vitamins, to make the “enriched flour” commonly found on the grocery store shelf. However, the flour does not regain fiber or all of the missing nutrients lost with the bran and germ.
What is Dietary Fiber?
Dietary fiber is a term for a collection of plant-based carbohydrates that the body cannot digest into smaller sugar molecules. Fiber remains relatively intact as it travels through the digestive system, and it has multiple properties that contribute to a slimmer waist.
- It promotes satiation, or fullness, because a fiber-rich meal increases the time needed for digestion and nutrient absorption. It slows down the rate of digestion, making you feel fuller, longer.
- A high-fiber meal typically has more volume and is less energy-dense than meals that have low amounts of fiber. The high volume and lower energy levels of fiber-rich foods provide more bulk with fewer calories.
- A high-fiber meal may decrease the amount of food eaten throughout the day. This means that a breakfast with fibrous veggies, grains, and fruits may decrease the amount of food eaten for the rest of the day.
Whole grains are a great source of fiber, and they are proven to aid in fat loss. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association looked at the effects of whole grains on weight loss. The study placed two groups of people on different dietary programs. Each program was formulated for weight loss and contained the same amount of energy. The first program included whole grains each day, while the second program contained less fiber. Those who consumed whole grains every day had a smaller waist circumference than those on the program that contained less fiber!
Unfortunately, both women and men in the US consume, on average, less than half the amount of fiber recommended each day. Here are a few ways to introduce more whole grains into your diet:
- Buy whole grain pastas and breads.
- Eat whole grain crackers instead of chips.
- Try brown rice instead of white.
- Bake using whole wheat flour.
- Try introducing ancient grains into your diet (e.g., quinoa, black forbidden rice, farro, spelt).
If a label states that the product is whole grain, the product must contain the same ratios of bran, germ, and endosperm naturally found in the kernel. Look for grains like brown rice, whole oats, whole wheat, wild rice, buckwheat, millet, sorghum and bulgur at the top of product ingredient list.
Adding whole grains to daily meals is a great choice for promoting weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. Try swapping out a few of refined grain foods for nutritious, fiber-filled whole grains, and you will be on your way to feeling your best.