The Importance of Whole Grains in a Healthy Diet

Client Question: Do I need to include whole grains in my diet to be healthy?

Trainer Gina's Answer:
There are no essential carbs—only essential proteins and essential fats. Furthermore, calorie for calorie, whole grains never have as many vitamins and minerals as fruits and vegetables. The small amount of carbs we need to function well can be found in fruits and vegetables. Dairy foods, beans and legumes, and nuts also contain carbs, as do wine and chocolate--foods that have specific health benefits in moderation.

So although we don’t tend to need whole grains for carbs, one ‘nutrient’ that can be hard to come by without whole grains is dietary fiber—although with a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts you should be able to obtain your 25-30 grams per day. However, whole grains do add an easy source of fiber particularly for those who do not consume beans or legumes regularly.

However, whole grains come in handy as a good calorie source for those who are athletic, for growing children, or for those who are thin and want to maintain or gain weight. Whole grains are also a less expensive alternative source for high-quality calories if cost of food is a concern. There are some metabolic types that thrive on higher carb diets and feel and perform best on higher carb diets; this is usually a trial and error type situation. But, if you find yourself feeling sleepy after consuming a high carb meal, you probably aren’t a person who does well on higher carbs. Keep in mind too that ‘starchy’ vegetables such as potatoes of all types, squashes and corn as well as fruit juice all provide higher carb levels similar to what you’d get with whole grains.

So, the answer is, no not everyone needs whole grains in their diet, and how many servings you include is going to depend on your individual physiology, what else you are eating, and your health and fitness goals. Generally, 1-6 servings per day is a good place to be. A serving would be a slice of whole wheat bread, ½ cup cooked brown rice or whole wheat pasta, 1 cup of dry cereal such as bran flakes, 1 small whole wheat or ½ large whole wheat tortilla, or ¼ of a large whole wheat bagel. So, it’s not terribly difficult to obtain even 6 ‘servings’ of whole grains in a day. Keep in mind you may need more if you wish to gain weight, if you are a vegetarian, or if you are an athlete.

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