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Understanding Grains

MAC Nutrition Team - Thursday, September 20, 2018

Are Grains the Enemy?

With the rise of fad diets such as the paleo diet and the ketogenic diet, which reject grains, grains have ended up with a rather bad reputation. Many people express a desire to “stop eating bread” or “cut carbs.” However, such blanket statements about an entire food group fail to take into account the nuances of grains. When it comes to grains, the important question isn’t whether or not to eat them, but rather, how much and what type? But first, let’s discuss why those who eschew grains may want to reconsider.

Grains make up an important, and rather substantial, part of very healthy dietary patterns around the world. Large-scale epidemiological research shows that populations who eat plenty of whole grains, several servings per day, tend to have longer and healthier lifespans, with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, and certain types of cancer. Whole grains provide the body with beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals, and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Whole grains are also an excellent carbohydrate source because they are a type of carbohydrate that digests and enters the bloodstream slowly, while still providing the body and brain with vital energy.

These benefits of whole grains illustrate why the type of grains you eat matters. While whole grains provide countless benefits to the body, refined grains are more detrimental. These refined grains, such as white bread and white pasta, tend to raise levels of inflammation in the body and have been stripped of most of their fiber and nutritional value. They are digested quickly, spiking blood sugar levels and failing to offer beneficial nutrients.
As with any type of food, portion sizes matter for grains. It is possible to have too much of a good thing, and this is true of virtually every type of food, so how much you’re eating is important to keep in mind. A good starting place for a portion size of rice or pasta, for example, is about the size of one fist. However, this really is just a starting place. Appropriate portion sizes vary from person to person, and a marathon runner may need a different amount of grains when compared to someone who is more sedentary.

So, don’t be afraid of grains! They are an important part of any diet and are part of a dietary pattern shown to increase longevity and health. Look for ways to include brown rice, oats, whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, farro, barley, and bulgur (and countless other whole grains) into your meals and snacks. And, as always, contact one of your MAC dietitians if you need advice on how to incorporate whole grains into your diet.

Today's post is from Louisa Paine, Registered Dietitian at The Mount Auburn Club.

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The information presented here is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition. As always, please speak with your registered dietitian regarding any dietary modifications or nutrition-related questions.