I didn’t realize how prevalent carb-confusion still is until guiding thousands of participants through Crazy Sexy You, my 21-day total wellness program, last fall (get on the waitlist for the next live immersion here). Much to my surprise, some folks were alarmed and even afraid to see brown rice paired with their Cauliflower and Chickpea Masala! You might be in the same boat—unsure whether you should enjoy carbs or shun them for good. But it’s common to be skeptical because good carbs have gotten a bad rap in recent history.
So why is that? Why are carbs (even whole grains) blamed for issues like mental cloudiness, fatigue and weight gain? Their poor reputation is mostly rooted in diet fads and the fact that some healthy, nutrient-rich whole grains have been lumped in with processed, sugary foods—the real culprit of these health issues (and more).
As a result, the damage done by popular crash diets (ahem, Atkins) has caused nourishing carbs to be misunderstood. So rather than throwing out the quinoa with the Krispy Kremes, let’s get the full scoop.
There’s a wide range of nutritional value in the carb kingdom with sweets, sugary drinks and processed carbs on one end of the spectrum and whole grains, fruits and vegetables on the other. You can probably guess which side is the one I’d recommend adding to your plate.
Very few people can argue with the fact that veggies and fruits are healthy carbs, but whole grains are an in-between-er for some. Did you know that grains, like brown rice, quinoa (which is technically a seed, but we cook it and eat it like a grain), whole grain pasta, amaranth, millet (and the list goes on!), are loaded with essential nutrients? Research has shown that including them in your diet delivers a wide array of health benefits—even long-term weight control!
Obviously, if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, you’ll want to avoid the gluten-containing whole grains, but there are so many other healthy carbs that can be enjoyed instead (check out my blog on gluten sensitivity here and the pros and cons of gluten-free diets here for more info).
Today, I’m here to defend my little whole grain buddies, quash any fears you have about including them on your plate and get you pumped about trying some new ones. Some of the biggest benefits of eating more whole grains include…
For starters, the pooled results of 14 long-term research studies show that the more whole grains you eat, the longer you’re likely to live (study). At just 3 servings of whole grains per day, your risk decreases significantly, especially when it comes to dying from heart disease or cancer (study). And for every extra serving beyond 3 per day, your risk decreases even more. Not to mention the fact that whole grains are one of the biggest diet components to preventing heart disease to begin with (study).
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
In addition to living longer, people who eat whole grains have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. In all the studies that have looked at whole grains and long-term health, it has also been found that compared to people who rarely or never consume whole grains, people who eat 3-5 servings of whole grains daily avoid the typical rate of weight gain that happens in adulthood (about 2 pounds per year) (study). This could be because of the satisfying nature of whole grains and the fact that you fill up faster and feel better when your diet includes them.
Losing Unwanted Pounds
And they don’t just help you maintain weight, they also may help you lose it. Eating whole grains has been shown to boost your metabolism. People who eat whole grains daily burn about 100 more calories a day because of their increased metabolism and better digestion, with an increase in bowel movements (study). Plus, eating whole grains at meals helps you stay full longer, which means you’re less likely to snack or binge on unhealthy foods.
Lowering Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Even though whole grains have a hearty dose of carbohydrates and have the potential to raise blood sugar, they also contain fiber, which can prevent blood sugar spikes. Plus, the magnesium in carbs is an important cofactor for helping the body properly use glucose and make insulin. This is why research has shown that regular whole grain consumption can lower type 2 diabetes risk by 31% (study). And, it’s something special about the whole grains because even if magnesium consumption from other foods is high, type 2 diabetes prevention isn’t as strong.
Lowering Risk of Developing Breast Cancer
Large studies done in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women have shown significant reductions in breast cancer risk when eating fiber from whole grains every day. This has been tied to their rich source of phytoestrogenic lignans (plant estrogens found in cereal fiber). The lignans mimic estrogen, causing your body to produce less on its own. Less estrogen production means greater breast cancer prevention. In premenopausal women eating at least 13 grams of fiber from whole grains per day (about 4 servings of whole grains), breast cancer risk decreased by 41% compared to women eating 4 or fewer grams of fiber from whole grains each day (about 1 serving of whole grains) (study). Similar results have been found for postmenopausal women (study).
Improving Digestive Health
Not only do whole grains have wonderful fiber, which can prevent constipation and keep the trains moving on time, but the fiber is also helpful at binding to toxins to get them out of your body. Plus, the fiber in whole grains helps promote gut health by acting as prebiotics—the food that nourishes your good bacteria (probiotics). This is why diets rich in whole grains can help remedy diverticulosis, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive ailments.
After reading this list, you might be warming up a little to whole grains. So now, let’s talk about how many servings you’ll need to experience these grain goodies.
The Dietary Guidelines Committee recommends eating 6-10 servings of grains per day, half of those servings being whole grains (so, 3-5 servings a day). But, I think we can do better than that! What if all your grains were whole grains (and none of the processed stuff that gives healthy grains a bad rap)? You’ll be surprised how easy that can be, especially since one serving is equal to 1/2 cup cooked whole grain, 1 slice of whole grain bread or 1 ounce of whole grain cereal.
Let me give you an example. If you have a cup of cooked oatmeal at breakfast, 2 slices of avocado toast on whole grain bread at lunch and a stir-fry over 1/2 cup quinoa at dinner, that’s already 5 servings of whole grains. Add 10 whole grain crackers dipped in hummus as a snack, and you’re at 6 servings. An A+ day!