As we age, we should look for ways to protect our overall health and prevent the onset of illness and disease. Eating a balanced diet can help us age healthfully and stay independent for longer. Adding whole grains to our diets can help prevent some diseases and other conditions common among older adults. The health benefits of whole grains come from built-in protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium. In short, whole grains are packed with health-enhancing nutrients.
Diets that include the recommended amount of whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even some forms of cancer. Whole grains are also important for maintaining colon health by promoting healthy bacteria in the colon and regular bowel movements. Dietary Guidelines recommend that total fiber intake for adults older than 51 should be at least 28 grams per day for men and 22 grams for women. However, the average American falls short of this recommendation, missing out on the important health benefits of whole grains.
What Are Whole Grains, Anyway?
Some of the most common varieties of grains are corn, rice, and wheat, all of which are commonly referred to as cereals. Some seeds of these non-grass plants are also considered grains, such as buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth. Whole-grain kernels contain three essential parts that offer unique health benefits:
The Bran. The outer layer of a whole-grain kernel is called the bran, which supplies nutrients like B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Bran and fiber are also responsible for slowing the breakdown of starch into glucose which prevents our blood sugar from spiking.
The Germ. This part of the whole-grain kernel is responsible for seed growth and contains healthy fats and fiber.
The Endosperm. This is the inner layer of the whole grain that contains nutrients including carbohydrates, proteins, B vitamins, and minerals.
Whole-grain foods contain all three parts mentioned above and can come whole or in their flour form while retaining all naturally occurring nutrients. Other grains like refined grains and enriched grains contain some parts of whole grains, but not all three elements. Refined grains have had the germ and bran removed, while enriched grains have some vitamins added back in, but don’t contain all nutritious properties. To reap the health benefits of whole grains, it’s important to choose them in their whole form. According to the Mayo Clinic, some common forms of whole grains include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole-wheat bread, pasta, and crackers.
Health Benefits of Whole Grains
Why is whole grain better? Adding whole grains to your diet can help improve your overall health in several ways. As researchers continue to study the health benefits of whole grains, experts agree they can affect our health in the following ways:
Lower risk of heart disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and older adults above the age of 65 are more likely to develop heart disease than younger adults. One study review found that adults who consumed 28 grams of fiber each day reduced their risk of heart disease by 22%. Heart-healthy diets also call for whole-grain foods while avoiding refined grains which don’t contain as many nutrients.
Reduce the risk of obesity
Fiber-dense foods can help prevent overeating and are recommended for folks who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. Foods high in fiber are more filling and a healthy option for those who are at risk of obesity.
Aid with digestion
Fiber works to add bulk to stools and can help those who struggle with constipation. Fiber-rich foods also help healthy bacteria grow in the colon, which is especially important in maintaining digestive health.
Inflammation is a key factor in many chronic diseases and conditions. However, eating whole grains can help lower the risk of inflammation in the body. One study, in particular, reported that participants who replaced refined wheat products with whole wheat products saw a reduction in inflammation.
Protect teeth and gums
Gum disease is often linked with other health conditions such as inflammation and heart disease. While visiting the dentist and practicing proper oral hygiene can help reduce the risk of gum disease, consuming whole grains can help too. A study found that consuming high-fiber foods, such as whole grains, can reduce the risk of developing gum disease, especially in older adults.
Adding Whole Grains into Your Diet
If consuming whole-grain foods isn’t part of your current diet, it might take some time to adjust. However, adding in more whole grains and experimenting with different flavors can be a fun experience. Here are a few ways to get started:
There are so many whole-grain options that can replace traditional refined grain foods. Bagels, cereals, bread, and crackers all come in whole grain form and have much higher rates of nutrients and health benefits. Try swapping your regular bread or cereal for a whole-grain option.
Adding whole grains to your regular baking recipes for cakes, pastries, and pies is a great way to sneak in additional nutrition to something you love. Swap half of the all-purpose flour for whole-meal flour or whole-grain oats.
If you usually consume white rice and pasta, try using a whole-grain option such as brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. You can use your favorite recipes and still enjoy all the additional health benefits of whole grains.
The easiest way to add whole grains into your diet is to snack on them. Air-popped popcorn and stone-ground corn tortillas are packed with fiber and can help keep you feeling full.
Living Well at Maplewood Senior Living
Aging well can take a team. Our highly trained chefs and foodservice teams design nutritious dining options that keep our residents feeling their best while enjoying every meal. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.