Nutrients in Whole Grains
When it comes to healthy foods, most people know that fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are essential for a healthy life. But many people don’t realize how much whole grains have to offer. Whole grains are a fantastic source of disease-fighting antioxidants and other nutrients that aren’t found in the same combinations in other foods.
Most Common Nutrients
Most whole grains have some level of vitamin B, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and fiber, along with other phytochemicals and nutrients. (Phytochemicals are chemicals in plants that help prevent diseases and cell damage.) Because of the scientific makeup of the grain, there are certain combinations of nutrients and antioxidants that are found in whole grains and in whole grains only. This also occurs in fruits and vegetables, and these combinations of nutrients aid each other in making sure your body absorbs as much of them as it possibly can.
Like all other natural and whole foods, grains contain their own unique blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that make up the base of the grain. Your body is able to absorb more nutrients when you ingest them in foods rather than in pill form because many of those nutrients work together with others to help the body absorb everything it needs from the food.
B vitamins are essential vitamins that are normally found in fish, eggs, shellfish, dairy, meat, and whole grains. The family of B vitamins, more commonly called the vitamin B complex, is especially important for your mind and nervous system. B vitamins are linked to mood and memory, and in the right amounts, can help with stress, fatigue, anxiety, and depression, and offer an increase in energy.
Vitamin E is the name used for a collection of fat-soluble compounds with many different health benefits. The E vitamins are typically found in nuts, seeds, vegetables oils, and leafy greens, but like many other vitamins, they are also offered in pill form for people with specific deficiencies. Vitamin E is extremely important to the body’s overall function as it has antioxidants that keep the immune system running smoothly, offers anti-inflammatory benefits, aids circulation, and helps protect cells from free radicals.
Vitamin E is found in many foods, including whole grains, but the highest levels are found in wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and hazelnuts. Along with nuts and seeds, dark greens also contain large amounts of vitamin E, which is essential for immune function and is also important for the health of your skin and circulation.
Among minerals found naturally in the body, magnesium constitutes the fourth highest concentration, and is very important for overall good health. Roughly 50 percent of naturally occurring magnesium is found in the bones, while the remaining magnesium is typically in the cells of your organs and tissues. Magnesium can also be found coursing through the body in the bloodstream, but it’s a very small amount. Your body is made to keep magnesium at low levels in the bloodstream for optimum health. Magnesium is necessary for helping to maintain muscle strength, nerve function, steady heart rhythms, strong immune systems, and strong bones.
Spinach and other green vegetables are good sources of magnesium, as well as beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Because the majority of magnesium is in the germ and bran sections of the whole grain, refined grains do not provide nearly as much of this nutrient as whole grains that still include the germ and bran.
Iron itself is one of the most prevalent metals and is essential to almost every life form and human function. It’s an important part of enzymes and proteins that keep you healthy, including things like keeping oxygen flowing through your body, helping regular cell growth, and providing energy. The majority of iron in the body is found in the hemoglobin in your red blood cells that carry important oxygen to your tissues and organs, but your body also stores iron for future needs.
What is hemoglobin?
Hemoglobin is a protein molecule in your red blood cells that helps carry oxygen from your lungs to your tissues and also carries carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs for more oxygen to continue the cycle. Healthy hemoglobin also helps your red blood cells keep their shape, which keeps your blood flowing the way it should.
To get iron from food, you need to focus on two things. In its simplest forms, iron concentrations are naturally the highest in meats and beans. Foods like chicken, beef, turkey, fish, and pork all provide one type of iron, while beans, lentils, and tofu offer a different type. There are also smaller amounts of naturally occurring iron in spinach and fortified cereals.
Dietary fiber is found in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and includes every part of the food that your body can’t use or digest. Fiber isn’t digested by the body, but it serves a big purpose in the digestive health of your body. When the undigested fiber passes through the stomach, small intestine, and colon, it takes other things along with it, cleansing your digestive system of other things that it doesn’t need or won’t absorb. A diet high in fiber not only keeps your digestive system working and balanced, but it can also help regulate your blood pressure and cholesterol, control your blood sugar, and help in weight loss, as the fiber helps rid the body of excess waste.
Is added fiber the same as naturally occurring fiber?
Fiber has become more popular over the past few decades as it’s been touted as important for heart health and for weight loss and maintenance. But many prepared foods include added fiber rather than naturally occurring fibers. While any fiber is good for your diet, it is always better and healthier to add foods to your diet that have their own fiber rather than foods with artificially added fibers. The natural fiber-filled foods also include additional nutrients and vitamins for your body that the added-fiber foods don’t offer.
Dietary fiber occurs naturally in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can dissolve in water, creating a gel-like substance in the body that attaches to other excess substances in the body, helping to clear them out as both fiber and excess pass through your system. Soluble fiber is highest in foods like peas, beans, oats, barley, carrots, apples, and some citrus fruits, and can help lower cholesterol and blood-sugar levels if they are high. Insoluble fiber helps to keep food progressing through the digestive system and increases the stool, which can be helpful to people who deal with constipation or other digestive issues. Insoluble fiber is found in wheat bran, whole grains, whole-wheat flour, nuts, and most vegetables.
The amount of fiber in foods varies, and many natural foods like whole grains and beans contain both types of fiber. To have the best balance of fiber working through your system, you should eat a variety of foods with naturally occurring fiber for optimum health.
Whole Grains and Specific Nutrients
Whole grains as a category tend to offer similar essential nutrients, but among individual types there are some differences as well. Every grain has its own mix of vitamins and minerals because each grain requires different levels of certain nutrients for new plants to grow. The grains listed here are some of the types most commonly used in both raw and sprouted forms.
Whole oats, in almost every form, still have the germ and bran intact, leaving the most nutritional value within the grain itself. Oats offer manganese, selenium, tryptophan, phosphorous, vitamin B1, dietary fiber, magnesium, protein, and fiber, making it a healthy and powerful option for breakfast or a side dish.
Quinoa, pronounced “KEEN-wa,” is not a whole grain at all, but it is actually a seed that is rich in amino acids and protein. Quinoa contains almost half of your daily required value of manganese, plus magnesium, iron, tryptophan, copper, and phosphorous. There are over 100 known varieties of quinoa, but the most commonly cultivated are white (which is an ivory color), red, and black. While the health benefits of each variety of quinoa are similar, they do provide different textures and flavors in your recipes. Compared to white quinoa, the red variety tends to hold its shape better, making it a great choice for salad recipes or if you need the grains to keep their shape and stay separate from your other ingredients. Black quinoa has a sweeter flavor and keeps its deep color even after cooking.
Whole wheat offers a large amount of essential nutrients, but the majority of these are only available when wheat is eaten in its unrefined and whole form. High in manganese, magnesium, tryptophan, and dietary fiber, whole wheat offers many more than just these nutrients: There are more than eighty nutrients documented in whole wheat.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps to break down proteins in the body. It helps to regulate mood, appetite, and sleep patterns. Many people realize that tryptophan is found in turkey, but don’t realize that tryptophan is also found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, red meat, dairy products, bananas, and some soy products.
Buckwheat is not a type of wheat at all. Buckwheat groats are fruit seeds, but they are often used in ways similar to the way wheat is used. Buckwheat is also a grain-type option for people who cannot tolerate gluten and wheat. Buckwheat, like whole wheat, is also highest in manganese, tryptophan, magnesium, and dietary fiber, but also offers smaller amounts of other essential nutrients.
In terms of nutrients, barley offers one of the highest levels of naturally occurring dietary fiber in all of the whole grains. Similar to wheat, barley is also high in manganese, tryptophan, phosphorous, selenium, and copper. These are the highest-occurring nutrients found in barley, but in total, it offers more than eighty different essential nutrients and vitamins in its whole-grain form.
Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are one of the healthiest beans available. Just two cups of chickpeas provides the full daily requirement of dietary fiber for your body and includes more than eighty different nutrients. Chickpeas are high in molybdenum, manganese, folate, protein, copper, phosphorous, and iron, making it a superfood when it comes to nutrition.
Lentils are legumes, like beans, but they contain different levels of nutrients that are specific to lentils themselves. As a legume, lentils are high in protein, which is what legumes are typically known for, but lentils are also high in molybdenum, folate, dietary fiber, tryptophan, manganese, iron, copper, vitamin B1, and potassium, all of which are necessary for your body to function well. The most common types in the United States are either green or brown, but lentils are also available in black, yellow, red, and orange.