Welcome back to You Are What You Eat! 

Let food be they medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food.
— - Hippocrates (460 - 377 BC) 

Drumroll please......Welcome to Week 4! You're doing awesome learning and implementing new tools each week. We're rocking whole grains today!


You Are What You Eat!

Lesson of the Week: Why and How to Rock Whole Grains

We're cruising into our last week of You Are What You Eat. Let's face it, whole grains sometimes doesn't sound as fun to talk about as some of the other topics so I'll do my best to make it as entertaining as possible! By the end, you'll see why they're awesome! 

Now, buckle your seatbelt, we're off to learn about whole grains.....

Why Should We Eat Whole Grains?

One of the biggest reasons that we should include whole grains in our diet is that they contain iron, B vitamins and fiber. Many contain protein. They also contain carbohydrates which is where a lot of confusion has come from surrounding grains and how healthful they are for us.

There have been so many mixed messages about carbohydrates in the world. We have to remember that carbohydrates are essential for life but not all carbohydrates are created equal. Since we want to keep life interesting, we want to look for more complex carbohydrates. 

Remember when we were discussing sugar and how there are simple and complex carbohydrates? Fiber is the magic ingredient that helps to make a carbohydrate complex. Fiber not only helps keep our blood sugar more constant but also keeps us feeling fuller longer. And, if we don't get enough of it, our intestines can resemble a rush hour traffic jam in Washington, DC. Nothing is going anywhere fast.

I know what you're wondering, "is fiber like the rock star of our food? Yup. Fiber is a rock star! Sadly though, fiber doesn't get nearly the applause that it should. Check out just a few of the many health conditions that fiber may help to prevent and/or treat: 

  • Breast Cancer
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Colon Cancer
  • Constipation
  • High Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Diverticulitis
  • Gallstones
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Obesity

On top of all the above, some studies have also shown that people who consume higher levels of fiber tend to be thinner and maintain their weight. Other studies have even shown that higher levels of fiber are associated with lower levels of varicose veins. What doesn't fiber do?

What exactly is fiber? 

A million dollar question and one that I stumbled to answer when my friend's 5 year old asked me, "what's fiber?". So, here's the dictionary's answer: "coarse, indigestible plant matter consisting primarily of polysaccharides and cellulose, that when digested stimulates intestinal peristalsis". You can see why I stumbled to explain it. In short, it's the material that helps to form plants.

Dietary fiber only comes from plant food and is not digested by our bodies. Check out the food label from my Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal, we see Dietary Fiber listed under Total Carbohydrates. This label even breaks it down further into Soluble and Insoluble Fiber which is super helpful! 

  • Soluble fiber: Dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance. This type of fiber helps us feel fuller longer because it slows down how quickly our stomach empties. This may also help control our blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber may also interfere with our absorption of dietary cholesterol which can help reduce our LDL levels. Soluble fiber has also been known to keep our bacteria healthy in our intestines which boosts our immune system! 
  • Insoluble fiber: Does not dissolve in water and passes on through digestive system relatively intact. This literally helps keep things moving in our digestive tract while also adding bulk to our guts and reducing the risk of constipation. Think of it as the regulator! Studies have found insoluble fiber is particularly helpful in reducing the risk of diverticulitis. 

Isn't fiber awesome? Now, I'm sure you're wondering what the best sources of it are. I highlighted the whole grains

 Foods that Rock Soluble Fiber: 

  1. Oats/Oat Bran
  2. Nuts
  3. Flaxseed
  4. Chia Seeds
  5. Quinoa
  6. Beans/Lentils
  7. Barley 
  8. Fruit (especially unpeeled apples, citrus, strawberries)

 Foods that Rock Insoluble Fiber:

  1. Whole Wheat
  2. Other Whole Grains like oats, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, and others
  3. Wheat Bran
  4. Popcorn
  5. Fruits and Vegetables especially with the peels like on apples and potatoes


So, wait, what exactly is a Whole Grain? 

Most whole grains contain the entire grain kernel which consists of bran, germ and endosperm. It can be confusing. The bran contains fiber, iron, B vitamins and some minerals. The germ contains iron, vitamin E, phytochemicals and B vitamins. Some grains however, do not contain bran and are still considered whole. When looking at a food label, look for the word "whole" to indicate that the grain is still intact.

Some examples of a whole grain are whole wheat flour, bulgur, whole cornmeal, farro, Kamut, brown rice, and oatmeal. Whole grains are also rich in plant lignans. These are converted in our intestines into enterolactone which may help protect against heart disease as well as breast and other hormone dependent cancers.

So what's a refined grain? A refined grain has been milled. This process removes much of the goodness of the grain. This is why you're always hearing how good it is to eat non-processed foods and whole grains. When the bran and germ are removed, fiber, iron and a lot of the B vitamins are being lost. Some examples of a refined grain are white bread, white flour, white rice and degermed cornmeal. 

Don't worry! Some of my favorite foods (i.e. chocolate cake and sushi with white rice) contain refined grains too. You can still enjoy things with refined grains but just remember to keep things in moderation - increase the whole and reduce the refined.

Is Quinoa a grain?

Quinoa is technically a seed but, nutrient wise, acts like a grain. It's a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber and protein.

Are there any whole grains without gluten?

Tons of them! Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, rice, sorghum, wild rice, and oats. Though, sometimes during processing can come into contact with wheat so read your labels if there is a medical condition precluding you from gluten.

Does juicing help to increase our fiber intake? 

Juicing is still pretty popular. This is where people take fruits and veggies and put them through a juicer. Unfortunately, this removes the juice and leaves the fiber behind in the juicer. If you're a fan of smoothies and juices, the better option is to use a blender so that you keep all of the nutrients in your drink where you want them.

I've talked a lot about fiber in this lesson. Are you wondering how much we should eat each day?

Well, most Americans only get about 15 g/day. But, we should all be eating between 25 - 30 g/day. Some people even need more each day.

Is it okay to increase my fiber quickly?

Don't say I didn't warn you! You don't want to go from zero to 60 when it comes to fiber. Gradually increase your fiber intake so that your body can adjust gradually. You'll also want to increase your water intake along with your fiber intake since soluble fiber binds with water. 

Don't grains take forever to cook? 

I totally get it. When we're rushing to put dinner on the table, we want fast. Whole grains don't necessarily take a long time to cook at all. Oatmeal can be made in about 5 minutes. Some brands of farro (like the one pictured) can be ready in 10 minutes, quinoa in about 15 to 20 minutes and there is the super grains packet pictured here which takes 20 to 25 minutes. And, if you make a big batch at the beginning of the week, there easy to warm up when you need it quick.

You did it! You made it through a lesson on whole grains! Whoo hoo!


Your homework this week is to challenge yourself and try a 1 - 2 new whole grains as well as being mindful of your overall whole grain intake! As usual, we'll check in at the end of the week and see how you feel.

Good luck with your homework! Don't forget to check out your shopping list.

I'll see you on Tuesday with your next quiz of the week!

All material provided here is for informational or educational purposes only. Please consult your physician regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition. Use or reproduction of text or photographs is prohibited without written permission from WellStyles Consulting®.