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The Nutritional Benefits of Multiple Types of Grains



Wheat, Rice, & Oats

Grains are such a huge part of so many people’s diets because they are used to make foods that are highly consumed, such as different breads, pastas, cereals, etc. Since grains are so widely consumed and are encouraged to be a part of the diets of those whose health allows it, it’s important to know why, exactly, grains are significant. In order to help answer this question, we will be taking a look at the nutritional benefits of different types of grains, which will include: wheat, rice, and oats.


Wheat

Wheat is a grain commonly used in cereal, which is a popular breakfast food. “Wheat originated in Southwestern Asia, but today it is one of the top cereal crops grown in several countries for human consumption. Commonly, wheat cultivation is done at higher latitudes. It is primarily used for baking products such as bread, bagels, cakes, and muffins.” [1] Products made from wheat are a great source of energy because these products consist of a high amount of carbohydrates, which are one of the macronutrients that make up the foundation of a balanced diet. This, however, is just one of the many benefits that wheat provides the human body.


According to a table provided by the National Institutes of Health, there are multiple components found within wheat grain that have health benefits supported and approved by the European Food Safety Authority in Europe, and the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. The components and benefits included in this table are:

● Dietary fiber- Reduces postprandial glycemic response (and risk of type 2 diabetes); reduces intestinal transit time; increases fecal bulk; reduces cholesterol and risk of coronary heart disease

● Resistant starch- Has the same supported and approved benefits as dietary fiber

● Betaine- Normal homocysteine metabolism (reduced risk of coronary heart disease) *does not pertain to cereal

● Sterols, stanols, and derivatives- Reduce serum cholesterol and risk of coronary heart disease

● Tocols- Vitamin E activity [2]


The National Institutes of Health also states that “in addition to being a major source of starch and energy, wheat also provides substantial amounts of a number of components which are essential or beneficial for health, notably protein, vitamins (notably B vitamins), dietary fiber, and phytochemicals.” [2] We’ve already covered what benefits come from dietary fiber, but what about protein, B vitamins, and phytochemicals?

● Protein- Protein is another one of the three major macronutrients your body needs for a healthy diet. Consuming protein is also important to help your body create the essential amino acids it needs in order to carry out necessary functions. Some of these functions include:

○ Building muscle

○ Repairing tissues

○ Building brain chemicals

○ Regulating your blood pressure

○ Regulating your immune system

● B vitamins- There are many types of B vitamins, but some of their collective benefits include:

○ Good digestion

○ Cell health

○ Proper nerve function

○ Cardiovascular health

○ Healthy brain function

● Phytochemicals- Tocols are the phytochemicals that have accepted benefits like the Vitamin E activity, but what does Vitamin E activity entail? Basically, tocols “have accepted benefits in reducing blood cholesterol and therefore the risk of cardiovascular disease.” [2]


Rice

Another grain that is commonly consumed in many cultures and countries is rice. Rice was able to be spread so far and throughout so many countries due to trade systems centuries ago, and now, this high-calorie, diverse grain is used in traditional meals throughout the world. So, we’ve established that rice is enjoyed in a multitude of cultures and places, but how is it benefiting us nutritionally?


Rice is, of course, a source of fiber just like wheat, but it also has many other benefits. Rice is a source of Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and manganese. [3] These vitamins and minerals have great nutritional benefits, and such a widely consumed grain like rice is the perfect vehicle to carry them.

● Vitamin B1- Also known as thiamin, this vitamin “helps convert food into energy, [is] needed for healthy skin, hair, muscles, and brain and is critical for nerve function.” [4]

● Vitamin B6- This vitamin, also named pyridoxine, “aids in lowering homocysteine levels and may reduce the risk of heart disease, helps convert tryptophan (an amino acid) to niacin and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays key roles in sleep, appetite, and moods, helps make red blood cells, [and] influences cognitive abilities and immune function.”

○ Niacin- This vitamin is also called Vitamin B3, and it “helps convert food into energy [and is] needed for healthy skin, hair, blood, and brain.” [4]

● Magnesium- This mineral is “needed for many chemical reactions in the body, [it] works with calcium in muscle contraction, blood clotting, and [the] regulation of blood pressure, [and it] helps build bones and teeth.”[4]

● Phosphorus- This mineral “helps build and protect bones and teeth, [is a] part of DNA and RNA, helps convert food into energy, [and is a] part of phospholipids, which carry lipids in blood and help shuttle nutrients into and out of cells.” [4]

Selenium- This mineral “acts as an antioxidant- neutralizing unstable molecules that can damage cells- [and] helps regulate thyroid hormone activity.” [4]

● Manganese- This mineral “helps form bones, [and] helps metabolize amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.” [4]


Oats

Oats are another form of grain that have multiple benefits similar to the grains we have gone over above. There are many types of oats that you could consume to reap the benefits they provide. These types of oats include:

● Oat groats

● Oat bran

● Steel-cut or Irish oats

● Scottish oats

● Rolled or old-fashioned oats

● Quick or instant oats


Now, since these different forms of oats do go through different levels of processing, that does mean they have different effects when consumed. However, since we are discussing the nutritional benefits, it is important to note that their nutritional content stays relatively similar despite the different levels of processing. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, oats are a source of fiber, phosphorus, thiamine (Vitamin B1), magnesium, and zinc. [5] Since we’ve gone over all these vitamins and minerals besides, it’s time to explain the very last nutritional benefit of the final grain we’re analyzing. Zinc “helps form many enzymes and proteins and create new cells. [It also] frees vitamin A from storage in the liver. [It is] needed for [the] immune system, taste, smell, and wound healing, [and] when taken with certain antioxidants, zinc may delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration.” [4]


There are a multitude of grains that we did not go over in this article, however, even with the ones we did get to analyze, it is easy to see that grains do come with a variety of nutritional benefits. Grains are so widely consumed around the world, so it is nice to know that they are providing people with different necessary nutrients. However, if you are unable to or prefer not to eat a lot of grains, you can always take supplements which will help you to make up for any nutrients you may be missing out on. It is also important to make sure you are not taking in too much of any of these nutrients. So, if you aren’t sure what your levels may be or what nutrients you may need more or less of, it is always a good idea to get bloodwork done, if possible, to make sure you are giving your body the correct amount of nutrients it needs to function as smoothly as possible.



References:

1. Nagdeve, M. (2021, June 25). 18 incredible wheat benefits. Organic Facts. https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/cereal/wheat.html.

2. Shewry, P. R., & Hey, S. J. (2015, October). The contribution of wheat to human diet and health. Food and energy security. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4998136/.

3. Rice. The Nutrition Source. (2021, July 6). https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/rice/.

4. Listing of vitamins. Harvard Health. (2020, August 31). https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/listing_of_vitamins.

5. Oats. The Nutrition Source. (2021, July 6). https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/oats/.


 

Contributors:

Author: Lauryn Agron

Editor: Kayjah Taylor

Health scientist: Carmen Havyarimana


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