9 Health Benefits of Whole Grains

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Whole grains have been an integral part of human diet for thousands of years. Study 1

However, the supporters of various modern diets, such as the paleo diet, believe that the consumption of grains can be harmful for your health.

While it may be true that a high consumption of refined grains is linked to health problems like obesity and inflammation, whole grains are not the same and they have a different outcome.

In fact eating whole grains is linked to many health benefits, including a decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and blood pressure.

Here are the top 9 health benefits of eating whole grains.

What are whole grains?

Grains are essentially the seeds of plants similar to grass, known as cereals. Some of the most known and most common varieties are rice, wheat and corn.

Some seeds of non-grass plants, also known as pseudocereals, are also considered whole grains. Some of them are buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth.

The kernels of whole grain have three parts (Study 1):

Bran: This is the tough exterior shell. It’s rich in fiber, minerals, and antioxidants.
Endosperm: This is the middle layer of the grain and it consists mostly carbs.
Germ: The core (inner) layer of the grain is packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, and plant compounds.

Grains may be processed in various ways, such as rolling, crushing, or cracking. However, as long as the original proportion of these three parts is present, they qualify as whole grains.

Refined grains are stripped of the germ and bran, leaving only the endosperm.

Even though enriched refined grains are supplemented with some vitamins and minerals, they still don’t provide the same level of health benefits or nutritional value as their whole grain counterparts.

Common types of whole grains include:

  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Whole rye
  • Wild rice
  • Wheat berry
  • Bulgur
  • Buckwheat
  • Freekeh
  • Barley
  • Sorghum

Foods created from these ingredients are considered whole grain. This include certain kinds of bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals.

When buying processed whole-grain products, read the ingredient list to verify they’re entirely made from whole grains, not a blend of whole and refined grains.

Also, keep an eye about the sugar content, particularly in the case of breakfast cereals, which are frequently made with added sugar. Just because the label says “whole grain” does not automatically mean that the product is healthy.

Health benefits of whole grains

1. High in nutrients and fiber

Whole grains are a rich source of multiple important nutrients, including:

  • Fiber. Majority of the fiber in whole grains comes from the bran.
  • Vitamins. Whole grains are rich in B vitamins such as niacin, thiamine, and folate.
  • Minerals. Whole grains also contain minerals like zinc, iron, magnesium.
  • Protein. Each serving of whole grains provides several grams of protein.
  • Antioxidants. Many compounds in whole grains, such as phytic acid, lignans, ferulic acid, and sulfur compounds, act as antioxidants. Study 1
  • Plant compounds. Whole grains contain a variety of plant compounds like polyphenols, stanols, and sterols that help in preventing diseases. Study 1

The exact nutritional amounts depends on the type of grain. To illustrate their nutrient profile, take a look at the key nutrients found in 1 ounce 28g (grams) of dry oats:

  • Fiber: 3g (grams)
  • Manganese: 69% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Phosphorous: 15% of the RDI
  • Thiamine: 14% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 12% of the RDI
  • Copper: 9% of the RDI
  • Zinc and iron: 7% of the RDI

2. Lower your risk of heart disease

Among the most significant health benefits of whole grains is their ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death globally. Study 1

A review analyzing 10 studies discovered that consuming three 1-ounce or 28g (grams) servings of whole grains daily could potentially lower your heart disease risk by 22%.

Moreover, a 10 year long study involving 17,424 adults found that those who ate the most whole grains relative to their total carbs consumption had a 47% reduced risk of heart disease.

From these findings, researchers concluded that heart-healthy diets should include a greater amount of whole grains and fewer refined grains.

It’s worth noting that most studies tend to group together different kinds of whole grains, making it challenging to differentiate the benefits from each specific grain.

Nonetheless, whole grain breads and cereals, as well as added bran, have been heavily associated with a reduced heart disease risk. Study 1

3. Lower stroke risk

Another health benefit of whole grains is that it might also help lower your risk of stroke. Study 1

In analysis of 6 studies involving close to 250,000 people, they found that those who consumed the most whole grains had a 14% lower stroke risk than those who consumed the least.

Moreover, specific compounds found in whole grains, like fiber, vitamin K, and antioxidants, can reduce your risk of stroke.

Both the DASH and Mediterranean diets, which advise eating whole grains, may also help in reducing stroke risk. Study 1

4. Reduce your risk of obesity

Foods rich in fiber, can also help fill you up and make sure you don’t eat excessively. This is one of the main reasons why diets rich in fiber are often recommended for weight loss. Study 1

Whole grains and products made from them are typically more filling than refined grains, and studies show they may reduce obesity risk.

In fact, a review of 15 studies with nearly 120,000 people, found that consuming three servings of whole grains every day was associated with reduced body mass index (BMI) and less belly fat.

Additionally, a study examining different studies from 1965 to 2010 found that whole-grain cereal and cereal with added bran were linked with a modest reduction in obesity risk.

5. Lower your risk of type 2 diabetes

Consuming whole grains instead of refined ones may lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Study 1

A review of 16 studies found that replacing whole grains for refined grains and eating at least 2 servings of whole grains every day could decrease your diabetes risk. Study 1

This may partly be linked to the high fiber content in whole grains, which helps with weight control and obesity prevention, both of which are key factors in diabetes risk. Study 1

Furthermore, research has found a connection between the consumption of whole grains and lower levels of fasting blood glucose, as well as improved insulin sensitivity.

This could be connected to magnesium, a mineral found in whole grains that helps in carbohydrate digestion and is linked with insulin sensitivity.

6. Support healthy digestion

The fiber found in whole grains greatly helps healthy digestion in many ways.

Firstly, fiber helps with the formation of bulkier stools, and lowers the risks of constipation.

Additionally, some types of fiber in grains act as prebiotics, which help feed the beneficial gut bacteria, therefore improving digestion overall. Study 1

7. Reduce chronic inflammation

Inflammation is often the underlying cause of various chronic health conditions.

There are evidence that whole grains can help reduce inflammation. Study 1

According to one study, women who ate the highest amount of whole grains showed the lowest possibility of dying from chronic conditions associated with inflammation.

Additionally, in a recent study individuals with less healthy diets replaced refined wheat products for whole wheat ones, and saw a decrease in inflammation markers.

These and other similar studies back up the public health guidelines suggesting a switch from consuming mostly refined grains to a diet mostly of whole grains.

8. May reduce your risk of cancer

Studies examining the relationship between whole grains and cancer risk have shown inconsistent results, but they do show some promising results.

A review of 20 studies found that only 6 reported a decreased risk of cancer, while the remaining 14 demonstrated no connection.

Current research seems to show that the strongest anticancer benefits of whole grains are against colorectal cancer, a very common type of cancer.

Moreover, several health benefits related to fiber, such as its prebiotic role, may help lower your cancer risk. Study 1, Study 2

Finally, other components found in whole grains, like phytic acid, phenolic acids, and saponins, might slow the development of cancer. Study 1

9. Linked to a reduced risk of premature death

When your risk of chronic illnesses is lower it automatically reduces the risk of a premature death aswell.

In fact, one study found that consuming whole grains specifically decreased the risk of death from heart disease and any other cause.

The study took into account data from two large cohort studies and made adjustments for other factors likely to cause death rates such as smoking habits, body weight, and overall bad eating habits.

The findings suggested that for every 1-ounce or 28g (grams) serving of whole grains consumed, the risk of death was reduced by 5%.

Whole grains are not for everyone

Although whole grains are beneficial for the majority of people, they may not be suitable for everyone under all circumstances.

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity

Wheat, barley, and rye are known to contain gluten, a form of protein to which some individuals have an intolerance or an allergy.

Having celiac disease or a gluten allergy, or gluten sensitivity, can trigger a variety of symptoms, including but not limited to fatigue, digestive issues, and joint pain.

Gluten-free whole grains like buckwheat, rice, oats, and amaranth are typically fine for most people with these conditions.

However, there are those who may find it challenging to digest any variety of grain which is causing them to experience digestive problems and other associated symptoms.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Certain grains, such as wheat, are rich in short-chain carbohydrates known as FODMAPs. These can cause problems in people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a very common condition.

How to incorporate whole grains into your diet

Adding whole grains into your diet can be achieved in numerous ways.

An easy approach is to substitute refined grains in your diet with their whole-grain alternatives.

For example, if your kitchen cupboard frequently has white pasta, consider replacing it with pasta made from 100% whole wheat or another whole grain. Do the same for bread and cereal.

Always review the ingredients list to make sure if a product is actually made from whole grains.

Look for specific words such as “whole” in front of different types of grains. If it only states “wheat” rather than “whole wheat,” it’s not a whole grain. Avoid it.

You can also enhance your diet by trying new whole grains, like quinoa, in case you haven’t tried it before..

Here are some suggestions on how to add whole grains into your meals:

  • Cook a warm bowl of oatmeal or other grain-based porridge.
  • Add buckwheat groats to your cereal or yogurt.
  • Enjoy a healthy snack of air-popped popcorn.
  • Make polenta using whole-grain cornmeal.
  • Replace white rice with brown rice, or substitute it with an alternative whole grain like quinoa or farro.
  • Add barley into your vegetable soups.
  • Try using whole-grain flours, such as whole-wheat pastry flour, for your baking needs.
  • Use stone-ground corn tortillas over white ones when making tacos.


Consuming whole grains offers a wide range of health benefits.

Eating whole grains on a regular basis can potentially lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. This is mostly true when you replace refined grains in your diet.

Furthermore, high fiber foods like whole grains greatly improve your digestive health, although people with gluten intolerance should avoid wheat, barley, and rye.

To improve your overall well-being and for optimal health, it is recommended to add whole grains into your daily meals. Whole-grain breakfast cereals like steel-cut oatmeal are a very popular option.

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