By: Kelly Fuller with Dr. James Carraway, M.D.
As a child, I remember studying the “food pyramid” for good nutrition during health class. At the time, the category with the most serving recommendations per day was devoted to fruits and vegetables. Since then, produce has been replaced by breads and grains. While some individuals view grains as nutritious sources of B vitamins, others see them as a cause of obesity. For this reason, one must ask himself: are grains the ally, or the enemy?
On the one hand, whole grains offer a vast array of nutritious elements. For example, they have been shown to contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, niacin, thiamin, folic acid, and many other B vitamins. In fact, recent studies have discovered even more value in whole grains. According to Joanne Slavin in the recent article “Why Whole Grains Are Protective: Biological Mechanisms,” we find that whole grains are actually capable of protecting humans against certain diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The preventive nutrients lie in grains’ large supplies of starch, dietary fiber, and oligosaccharides, which become fermented in the gut and produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA). These SCFA provide energy for the colonocytes, decrease colonic pH, and might alter blood lipids; all of these modifications can enhance immunity within the body (Slavin).
However, a fine line exists with grains that humans constantly cross in their desires for grains deliciously-satisfying essence. Quite often, people consume far too many processed grains, which can bring on a variety of nutritional deficits. In her book Going Against the Grain, Melissa Diane Smith voices that the relatively low number of nutrients that processed grains provide do not account for their high caloric and carbohydrate counts; this off-balance ratio has been experimentally shown to cause obesity in humans (4). She goes on to mention the appearance of refined grains at the onset of the American Industrial Revolution, during which time the refinement of whole wheat grain and sugarcane entered the picture. The white flour that resulted was barren of any valuable fiber and nutrients that its predecessor wheat flour had possessed (17). Since then, the situation has only worsened by the day. Smith informs us that the “Fast-Food Movement” brought further onslaught of processed foods that contained nutrient-deficient white flour (20).
Obesity is only one of the many health concerns that are linked to over consumption of processed grains. Celiac disease, for example, is a digestive disorder that harms the small intestine and impedes nutrient absorption in humans. This disorder results from a rigorous reaction to wheat, barley, or rye gluten. Symptoms include rickets, abnormalities in tooth enamel, osteoporosis, arthritis-affected bone structure, and many other bone-related abnormalities (15). What’s worse, celiac disease correlates strongly with many autoimmune diseases including dermatitis herpetiformis, autoimmune liver disease, autoimmune thyroid disease, connective tissue disease, and Type-1 diabetes (71).
Overall, this type of reaction is not present in all individuals. Some people are far more sensitive to grains than others. For those that are not gluten-sensitive, whole grains should be consumed sparingly in the diet.
Preteen and teenage girls should add whole grains to their diets in order to reap the benefits of B vitamins, fiber, and other minerals. Examples of whole grains include wheat flour, steel-cut oats, brown rice, kamut, barley, cracked wheat, and quinoa. For even more variety, try teff, wheat berries, or oat groats. At the same time, young women need to cut out processed, bleached grains and flours that will do more harm than good in their bodies. Switching to whole grains can help regulate body weight and improve digestion.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Kelly Fuller is a student at University of North Texas. She is completing a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. She works as a supplemental instructor at the Learning Center, where she tutors algebra classes. She plans to attend medical school and enter the field of plastic surgery; other interests for the future include medical mission work.
Dr. James Carraway, M.D. is a world renown plastic surgeon is Professor & Chief of Plastic Surgery Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) Health Care Services in Virginia. Dr. James Carraway combines his surgical skills with anti-aging and nutrition programs and also serves as the medical director for the Aesthetic Skin Care Center which offers a full line of services from peels to facials and the latest and most advanced skin care products.
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