For many years now, we have heard nutritionists and health professionals all over the world say that we should limit the intake of refined grains as they are bad for us. Or they say that we should replaced refined grains with whole grains due to higher incidence of diet related illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and heart diseases. But have you ever wondered as why is that so? Why are refined grains bad for us and how they can affect our health?
Eating healthy and nutritious foods is very important for good health. Despite being consumed widely, the health effects of grains are still to be known clearly as some people believe they are healthy whereas some believe them to be harmful for us. So, a clear understanding is very important and this article will provide you an insight into refined grains and how they are different from the whole grains and what effects they have on our health?
Grains are small, edible seeds which are known to provide a lot of energy to our body. Example of some commonly used grains are maize, wheat, rice, oats, millets, barley and quinoa and the foods that are made from these grains are breads, muesli, cereals, oatmeal, pasta etc. Currently, in the market two different types of grains are available which are the whole grains and the refined grains. Both differ in terms of their nutritional value and their processing method.
Difference between refined grains and whole grains
Refined grains are different from the whole grains. A whole grain is known to comprise of three parts which is the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the hard outer layer which contains fibers and different minerals whereas the germ is the nutrient rich core comprising of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fats. The third part which is the endosperm is the largest part which mainly comprises of carbohydrates and proteins. On the other hand, the refined grains undergo a refining process where the bran and germ layers are removed leaving behind the endosperm. This makes them less fibrous and less nutritious and what remains are just empty calories as all the nutritious things have been removed from them.
Why refined grains are unhealthy and bad for our health?
As the refined grains undergo a refining process, what is left in them after that is the high carbohydrate containing endosperm with lots of starch and some amounts of proteins. These starch or carbohydrates are not fibrous due to which on digestion they breakdown fast and this leads to a rapid surge or spike in our blood sugar levels when we consume refined grains or food containing refined grains. Also, as they are less fibrous, they do not not keep us full for long time periods which leads us to overeat and may lead to weight gain and obesity.
However, despite it being unhealthy and low in nutrition, unfortunately many of us have a daily intake of refined grains and consume it frequently. The refined grain products available in the market are white breads, white pasta, baked goods, crackers, biscuits and cookies and certain cereals. Consuming these products can affect our health in many ways and contribute to many diseases and disorders in our body.
How refined grains can affect our health?
There are many ways in which refined grains can affect our health which are:
1. The refining process reduces dietary fiber content in the refined grains by 75% due to which their consumption leads to increased blood sugar levels which in turn causes an increase in our insulin levels. What this leads to is us feeling hungry frequently soon after any meal. This can cause us to overeat, gain weight and lead to the development of insulin resistance and diabetes in our body.
2. When blood sugar levels spikes in our body, insulin levels increase but other than that glucose starts building in the body which can bind and attach to nearby proteins. This it can do so by a chemical reaction known as glycation which is a pro inflammatory reaction which can lead to inflammation and a range of inflammatory diseases such as heart disease and arthritis.
3. Due to loss of dietary fibers, consumption of refined grains can impact our gut health and our body is not able to efficiently carry out detoxification process or keep our cholesterol levels in range.
4. Refined grains also have a higher glycemic index (GI), which is a ranking of different carbohydrate containing foods depending on how fast they break down to glucose in our body. Due to their higher glycemic index, the consumption of refined grains can lead to fat accumulation and storage in our body which can lead to a metabolic slowdown and metabolic disorders.
5. Refined grains contain excessive amounts of starch and are rich in gluten with no natural fiber in them. Further, during the refining process, many different chemicals are added to the refined grains along with bleaching agents and artificial flavors and colors.
6. Refined grains are packed with more calories in comparison to the whole grains as they are more concentrated. Plus, when compared to the whole grains, they have a higher sugar and fat content which can contribute to mood swings and the build up of fat mainly around our waistline.
7. Grains, whether the whole or refined grains are known to contain anti nutrients which are compounds that prevent efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients. Most of the foods contain anti nutrients which are degraded during soaking, sprouting and fermentation. However, the refined grains undergo a processing and refining process that can lead to significantly higher amounts of anti nutrients in them.
8. Lastly, it has been found in different studies that a diet high in refined grains is linked with loss of bone density in women particularly. This is because they generate acidic by-products that can pull out calcium from our bones and can also affect our body’s immunity levels.
The market these days are loaded with refined grains and products containing refined grains. But, our health is in our own hands. Because the refined grains can harm our health in many ways, we should always prefer eating the whole grains over the refined grains as they are more fibrous, nutritious, healthy and fulfilling. These days many refined grains are also being enriched with nutrients to replace the loss of nutrients in them and are being sold in the markets. However, these added nutrients cannot be efficiently absorbed by our body and they do not make up for the fiber and loss of other nutrients during processing. So, it is time to say goodbye to the refined grains for our own better health and adopt whole grains to our diet.
Dr. Surangna Jain has completed her Ph.D. (2016) in Food Science and Technology from Asian Institute of Technology, and postdoctoral research (2019) from Mahidol University, Thailand. She is also an author for her own blog Lifestylespeakss with corresponding Youtube channel with a tagline “Love your life, make it charismatic”.
Dr. Surangana Jain