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What Are the Health Benefits of Eating Seaweed?

Categories: Articles, Cooking tips, Nutritional Information, Phlegm Nodules & Interior Heat, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian, Western Medicine

Overview

Sea vegetables, often referred to as seaweed or algae, are not as common in the Western culture as they are in other areas of the world. Sea vegetables come in a variety of colors including green, red and brown, each with a unique flavor, shape and texture. This exclusive family of vegetables absorbs nutrients from the sea and are, therefore, an excellent source of trace elements, vitamins, minerals and protein. Sea vegetables are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Proponents claim that sea vegetables can protect against disease including cancer; however, no scientific studies have been done to confirm this.

Dulse

Dulse is a reddish brown sea vegetable with a chewy and slightly salty taste. It is approximately 22 percent protein, offers more than 100 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin B-6, iron and fluoride in addition to 66 percent of the RDA for vitamin B-12. Dulse is also a rich source of potassium, manganese, iodine, iron, riboflavin, phosphorus, and vitamin A. It offers a variety of trace elements, enzymes and phytochemicals, yet is relatively low in sodium. Dulse is available powdered as a condiment or in whole stringy leaves. One-third cup of dulse contains about 18 calories.

Agar Agar

Sometimes called Japanese gelatin, agar agar is a clear, tasteless alternative to animal or chemical-based gelatin. Derived from red seaweed, agar agar is a natural thickener. You will typically find this sea vegetable used as a gelling agent in desserts, pie fillings, puddings and aspics. Agar agar can also be used to replace eggs and other thickening agents in baking. Rich in iodine, calcium, iron, phosphorus and fiber, agar agar acts as a mild laxative, adding bulk to your diet without the calories. One serving, or 11 g, of agar agar powder has about 40 calories.

Wakame

Wakame, also known as alaria, is a deep grayish green sea vegetable. Rich in dietary fiber, chlorophyll, beta carotene, B vitamins, calcium, iodine, iron, protein, calcium and vitamin C, this is one of the most tender sea vegetables. It has a subtle sweet flavor and slippery texture and is best eaten in soups or salads. Two tablespoons of wakame has about 5 calories Oriental medicine utilized wakame for skin problems, strengthening hair, thyroid disorders, menstrual regularity and blood purifier.

Nori

Nori is 28 percent protein and an excellent source of calcium, manganese, fluoride, iron, copper and zinc. It is the sea vegetable with the highest B vitamins, including B-1, B-2, B-3, B-6 and B-12 as well as vitamins A, C and E. This easily digested, deep purple-green vegetable is sweet in flavor with a slightly nutty taste. Nori is most commonly used as wrappers for sushi rolls. One sheet of nori has approximately 10 calories.

Kombu

Dark purple, kombu is one of the most commonly used and recognized seaweeds. Kombu comes in thick strips or sheets and will add iodine, calcium, magnesium and iron to your diet. It is also a good source of vitamins B, C, D and E, as well as calcium, beta carotene, potassium, silica and zinc. Tough and chewy, kombu contains enzymes that help break down the raffinose sugars in beans, making them more easily digested. One 4-inch piece of kombu has 10 calories.

Overview

A staple of Asian cuisine, sea vegetables are often vastly under-appreciated in the West. Sometimes referred to as seaweed, these vegetables actually include a wide range of different types of algae. Frequently sold dried, most sea vegetables need to be reconstituted before or during cooking. Sea vegetables may also be sold as dietary supplements in powder, tablet or capsule form.

Types

Sea vegetables come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and flavors. The most familiar for most people is nori, the green or dark purple sheets used to wrap some types of sushi rolls. Arame looks like thin black shreds and is cooked in stir fry dishes or used in salads. The brown sea vegetable dulse is frequently served in powdered form as a condiment but its leaves can also be pan-fried. Kombu comes in dark purple sheets that are often added to soups. Sweet and salty sea palm and tender wakame can both be eaten raw or served in salads or cooked dishes.

Nutrients

Sea vegetables are all typically high in iodine, iron, fiber and a wide range of vitamins and minerals. The iodine in sea vegetables is highly concentrated, but may dissipate some when the vegetables are reconstituted in water. The iron in sea vegetables is accompanied by vitamin C, which helps in making iron bioaccessible. Sea vegetables are also a good source of antioxidant micronutrients. In addition, they contain high levels of selenium, manganese, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E.

Phytochemicals

In addition to the micronutrient antioxidants, sea vegetables also supply phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. Different varieties of sea vegetables contain differing levels of carotenoids and flavonoids. For example, nori contains high levels of beta-carotene, the carotenoid that can be converted into vitamin A and benefits visual health. Sea vegetables also contain alkaloids, compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Because of the complex interactions between the phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, sea vegetables are best eaten whole instead of taken in supplement form.

Health Benefits

Proponents of sea vegetables promote their consumption as good for cancer prevention, particularly colon and breast cancer, and healing degenerative diseases. Extracts from sea vegetables have been shown to halt cancer cell growth in the lab, but these results have not yet been replicated in human or animal models. Research on the health effects of sea vegetables have been mostly limited to laboratory studies thus far. Human clinical trials are needed to determine the effects of sea vegetables on diseases such as cancer, diabetes or asthma.

Source of Nutrients

Most seaweeds are high in essential amino acids, which makes them valuable sources of vegetable protein in a vegetarian or mostly meatless diet.

Like most land vegetables, seaweeds contain vitamins A (beta carotene) and C. Seaweeds are rich in potassium, iron, calcium, iodine and magnesium because these minerals are concentrated in sea water. They are also one of the few vegetable sources of vitamin B-12.

Weight Control

Seaweed is a “free food” when it comes to weight control because it provides only 5 to 20 calories in a serving and contains virtually no fat. Its fiber content also contributes to a feeling of satiety, or fullness when eaten in a meal.

Japanese researchers at Hokkaido University have discovered that a substance in brown seaweeds called fucoxanthin helps reduce the accumulation of fat in the body cells of laboratory animals–although there is no evidence that these results carry over to humans.

Salt Substitute

Seaweed granules have been tested in the United Kingdom as a flavor enhancer that could replace sodium in snack foods and other processed food products. Cutting back on salt can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, which reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Blood Sugar Regulation

When eaten as part of a meal, seaweed can help balance blood sugar because its soluble fiber content helps slow the rate at which foods are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream.

Digestive Aid

Agar agar is a gelling agent made from seaweed that’s high in soluble fiber. When used as a laxative, agar agar soaks up water in the intestine and swells up. This creates movement in the bowels that helps with elimination of waste.

Other Possible Benefits

Seaweed extracts have been shown to have an anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effect on laboratory animals, though this has not been scientifically proven in humans.

1. Sea Vegetable History

People from all over the world have eaten sea vegetables for centuries. In Boston, years ago, dulse, a purple-colored sea vegetable, was available to purchase in the street markets. Russians and Irish have favorite sea vegetable dishes. Nevertheless, nowhere are sea vegetables as popular as they are in Japan. In Japan, an organization grades sea vegetables for quality as the United States Department of Agriculture grades meats. Sea vegetables are an important part of the macrobiotic diet.

2. Most Nutritious of Food Groups

Due to modern farming techniques and poor topsoil quality, vegetables today are not as vitamin-rich and nutritious as they were in times past. Sea vegetables may be one of the only ways to get precious trace minerals such as cobalt, copper, chromium, fluorine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc back into our diets. These minerals are necessary in small amounts in our bodies. Of all the foods recommended in the macrobiotic diet, sea vegetables are the richest source of minerals.

3. Sea Vegetable Variety in the Macrobiotic Diet

The most popular sea vegetables used in the macrobiotic diet are arame, dulse, hijiki, kelp, kombu, nori, wakame, Irish moss, and agar-agar for thickening. Their benefits are unmatched. For instance, arame is very high in calcium; dulse is 30 times richer in potassium than bananas and has 200 times the potency of beet root in iron; hijiki has 4 times the amount of calcium of whole milk; kelp has 150 times the amount of iodine and 8 times as much magnesium as garden vegetables; kombu equals corn in phosphorus; nori has as much vitamin A as carrots and twice the amount of protein as some meats; wakame is high in calcium and phosphorus also.

4. Alkalize Acid and Remove Radioactive Substance from the Body

Sea vegetables help alkalize the blood to a healthy pH level. Modern diets and junk food make the blood acidic, which over long periods of time leads to acidosis, which means our bodies do not get enough oxygen. This continued process can lead to cellulite in women, skin disorders and overall unhealthiness. Sea vegetables can also reduce excess fat and mucous. Toxic metals in the intestines turn into harmless salts, thanks to the darker sea vegetables. In 1964 at McGill University in Montreal, an experiment showed sea vegetables removed radioactive strontium-90 from the body.

5. Buying Sea Vegetables

Sea vegetables are in all good health food stories. Usually you will not find the full variety of sea vegetables in one store, but bigger stores may carry most of them. If there is a particular variety, you want talk to the section manager about getting it ordered. You can also order online with Japanese and macrobiotic food outlets.

Overview

Some types of ocean plant life are beneficial for human consumption. Seaweed and other types of algae have been eaten for thousands of years. You can buy seaweed in the dried form or as a supplement at most health food stores. Commonly called sea vegetables, seaweed supplements may also go by other names and address a variety of health concerns.

Types of Sea Vegetables

Seaweed, whose varieties include kelp, kombu, bladderwrack, wakami, nori, dulse and algae, grows rapidly in the cool waters of most oceans, especially along the Pacific coast of North America.

Sea Vegetable Claims

According to The American Cancer Society, some proponents of sea vegetables claim they can prevent or treat myriad physical ailments, from cancer to obesity. They claim that these vegetables contain concentrated nutrients not available in land-based foods, as well as some nutrients that are not available to humans elsewhere. Infomercials and other marketing tactics claim seaweed can help control appetite and aid in weight loss.

Benefits

Seaweed contains high amounts of iodine. According to Dr. Donald W. Miller, the recommended dietary intake of 100 mcg to 150 mcg may be about 100 times too low. Iodine is a crucial element of thyroid hormones and is essential to the proper functioning of the thyroid, the gland located at the base of your neck that regulates your metabolism. Miller says that increased amounts of iodine may protect you from breast cancer and can improve your immune function due to its antioxidant properties.

The “Journal of Nutrition” found that several types of marine algae are also high in iron and vitamin C. Sea kelp may be able to help reduce the uptake of dietary fat by more than 75 percent, according to a 2010 article published in “Science News.”

Some sea vegetables contain varying amounts of carotenoids, flavonoids and alkaloids, which may have anti-inflammatory properties.

The USDA recommends you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Eating sea vegetables counts towards your daily intake of fruits and vegetables.

Sea vegetables can also be used as thickeners in some food, ranging from infant formula to ice cream.

Iodine Deficiency

Too little iodine in the diet can contribute to hypothyroidism, goiter and mental retardation. According to the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, iodine deficiency is the most preventable cause of mental retardation and brain damage in the world.

Supplements

Common sea vegetable supplements include kelp and red, green or brown algae. Some manufacturers combine kelp with marine algae or other ingredients, such as sodium and iron.

Indian Cooking; Nutrition Info

Categories: Articles, Asian, Cooking tips, Food Culture, Indian, Nutritional Information, Western Medicine

This is not how I normally like to look at food, through caloric and fat content counting, but it is useful info to look over to get an idea of what you are putting in your body. I eat mostly vegetarian (flexitarian really) and just a friend just moved to the Devon area. This is THE Indian and Pakistani area of Chicago and so I have been eating rich, delicious vegetarian Indian food just about every night. I hope to cook some tasty, nutritious meals in this style soon. Until there here are a few ideas and tips for those who want to explore this “other” Eastern Culture’s food. It is a deep well to explore. Good Indian is some of the most rich and delicious of meals, maybe because of Yin nourishing aspect and fat content. I don’t know about some of the claims below, but worth noting. Feel free to comment. ~ Enjoy

 

Mitch

_____________

Nutrition data (calories, carbohydrates, protein) of homemade Indian food are given. Also the ways to preserve nutrition in Indian cooking are discussed.

Many Indian are vegetarians and they eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk and plant-based proteins. These foods contain essential micro-nutrients and vitamins that produce antioxidants which are good for heart, blood pressure and diabetes.

But Indians, in general, consume less amount of vegetables {says who?}. Also reheating of vegetarian dishes, a common practice among Indians, destroys the micro-nutrients. “Indians, therefore, face heart attacks five years earlier than people in the West,” according to Dr Deepak Natarajan of Apollo hospital, Delhi.

Diets rich in saturated fats and hypertension are the main reason for this.

Indian Cooking & Nutrition

http://www.fatfreekitchen.com/nutrition/indian-foods.html

By 2010, India will carry 60 percent of the world’s heart disease burden, nearly four times more than its share of the global population, according to a study released by Denis Xavier of St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore in April 2008.

  • Calories in Indian foods and their nutrition depend on the way the foods are cooked.
  • An Indian dish may be very high in calories/energy (mostly from fat) if it is cooked by deep frying, or it may be low in calories or fat if it is stir fried or baked.
  • The rich creamy dishes containing foods covered with lot of spice colored liquid are often very high in fat (mostly saturated fat and trans-fat), while the tandoori dishes are low in fat.

    The research (Feb 2010) conducted by “Which” magazine of Britain found that a single meal of Indian curry in Britain has more fat than the recommendation for the entire day, an average takeaway contained 23.2gm of saturated fat, 3.2gm more than a woman should eat in a day.  Indian takeaway meals are known for their liberal use of ghee and oil, not only in curries but also breads. The researchers found that a naan contained more calories than a chicken tikka masala.

  • Indian often reheat the food, the reheating destroys the nutrients of the food.
  • Indian food is often overcooked, destroying its nutrition.
  • The North Indian dishes are very rich in taste and presentation as compared to South Indian food. The North Indian foods, especially Punjabi foods, are generally higher in calories and fat and lower in nutritional value, than South Indian foods because Punjabi cooking involves tarka or vaghar (frying of spices, onions, etc.) in pure ghee (high in
    saturated fat), butter, oil or trans fats or trans-fatty acids (hydrogenated oils and fats, dalda) that gives unique Indian taste and texture. Read more on trans fats in Indian foods.
  • The tandoori foods of North India are rich in nutrition and natural flavours, but often these are loaded with fats. A new research reported at a conference on “Fats and trans-fatty acids in Indian diet” at the Seventh Health Writers Workshop organised by Health Essayists and Authors League (HEAL) in 2007 found that the trans-fatty acids in French fries is 4.2% – 6.1%, it is 9.5% in bhatura, 7.8% in paratha and 7.6% each in puri and tikkis.

How to Preserve Nutrition in Indian Cooking?

The health benefits of the Indian food depend on the method of cooking.

  1. If a recipe calls for too much cream, yogurt, ghee or oil and crushed cashews, then the dish will be very rich in taste and texture, but with out any nutritional value. The north Indian food, Punjabi food and the foods available in restaurants are cooked (rather over-cooked) like this and they are higher in fat and lower in nutritional value. These foods are generally prepared with deep frying onions, ginger, and spices in lot of oil or ghee. Read more on Indian
    food nutrition and calories
    .
  2. Instead of deep frying, you can stir-fry or saute them in very little vegetable oil. The over-cooked foods lose their nutrition because, in the process, the vitamins and minerals are leached out. You should leave the cooking of a vegetable when it is still crisp.
  3. Never use trans-fat or vanaspati like dalda, rath, etcfor cooking, these are not healthy. Many restaurants and shops use trans-fats for cooking tikkis, bhaturas, parathas, puri (poori) and even sweets and vegetable curries
  4. Do not chop the vegetbles into too small pieces. The vegetable will lose its nutrients if it has more exposed surfaces to the atmosphere.
  5. Always chop the vegetables only when you cook them, do not chop and leave them for a long time.
  6. Do not wash the vegetables like spinach, zucchini, lauki, etc. after chopping to preserve their nutrients.
  7. When you stir-fry, do not overheat the oil.
  8. If you make pakoras, keep the besan batter thick. Deep frying of thin batter pakoras absorb too much oil during frying.
  9. Do not add ghee or oil for making the dough of poori, otherwise the pooris will absorb too much oil during frying.

However, it is possible to have traditional Indian cooking recipes that produce tasty dishes with very less fat and keeping the natural nutrition values and low calories.

Can a Mediterranean Diet Delay the Need for Drug Therapy in Type 2 Diabetes?

Categories: Articles, Western Medicine

Medscape article. Interesting to see the approach of Western medicine to nutrition Diabetes. Some useful info about low fat vs low carb form the western perspective in this treatment.

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/711007?src=mp&spon=17&uac=137598EJ

Beans: Protein-Rich Superfoods

Categories: Articles, Western Medicine

Beans: Protein-Rich Superfoods
High in fiber and antioxidants, beans aren’t just good for the waistline, they may aid in disease prevention, too.
By Jenny Stamos Kovacs

More than just a meat substitute, beans are so nutritious that the latest dietary guidelines recommend we triple our current intake from 1 to 3 cups per week. What makes beans so good for us? Here’s what the experts have to say:

Chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease all have something in common. Being overweight increases your chances of developing them and makes your prognosis worse if you do, says Mark Brick, PhD — which means that trimming your waistline does more for you than make your pants look better. Brick, a professor in the department of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University, is investigating the ability of different bean varieties to prevent cancer and diabetes.

Beans are comparable to meat when it comes to calories, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Wellness Institute in Chicago and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. But they really shine in terms of fiber and water content, two ingredients that make you feel fuller, faster. Adding beans to your diet helps cut calories without feeling deprived.

Our diets tend to be seriously skimpy when it comes to fiber (the average American consumes just 15 grams daily), to the detriment of both our hearts and our waistlines. One cup of cooked beans (or two-thirds of a can) provides about 12 grams of fiber — nearly half the recommended daily dose of 21 to 25 grams per day for adult women (30 to 38 grams for adult men). Meat, on the other hand, contains no fiber at all.

This difference in fiber content means that meat is digested fairly quickly, Brick says, whereas beans are digested slowly, keeping you satisfied longer. Plus, beans are low in sugar, which prevents insulin in the bloodstream from spiking and causing hunger. When you substitute beans for meat in your diet, you get the added bonus of a decrease in saturated fat, says Blatner.

Still not convinced? In a recent study, bean eaters weighed, on average, 7 pounds less and had slimmer waists than their bean-avoiding counterparts — yet they consumed 199 calories more per day if they were adults and an incredible 335 calories more if they were teenagers.

Beans have something else that meat lacks, Blatner says: phytochemicals, compounds found only in plants (phyto is Greek for “plant”). Beans are high in antioxidants, a class of phytochemicals that incapacitate cell-damaging free radicals in the body, says Brick. (Free radicals have been implicated in everything from cancer and aging to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.)

In a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, researchers measured the antioxidant capacities of more than 100 common foods. Three types of beans made the top four: small red beans, red kidney beans, and pinto beans. And three others — black beans, navy beans, and black-eyed peas — achieved top-40 status.

The bottom line? Beans are pretty much the perfect food, Brick says.

WebMD the Magazine – FeatureReviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/beans-protein-rich-superfoods

Whole Grains Guide (healthcastle.com article)

Categories: Articles

Whole Grains Guide

Written by Gloria Tsang, RD
Published in Dec 2005; Updated in Aug 2007
whole grains health benefits(HealthCastle.com) You’ve probably heard a lot about how good for you whole grains can be. But do you really know what whole grains are — or why they’re so beneficial?

A grain is considered whole when all three parts — bran, germ and endosperm — are present. Most people know that fruits and vegetables contain beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants, but many do not realize that whole grains are often an even better source of these key nutrients. In fact, whole grains are a good source of B vitamins, Vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber, as well as other valuable antioxidants not found in some fruits and vegetables. Most of the antioxidants and vitaminsare found in the germ and the bran of a grain.

Common Types of Whole Grains:

* wild rice
* brown rice
* whole wheat
* oatmeal
* whole oats
* barley
* whole rye
* bulgar
* popcorn

Less Common Types of Whole Grains:

* amaranth
* millet
* quinoa
* sorghum
* triticale

Recommendations on Whole Grains

Whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by decreasing cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood coagulation. Whole grains have also been found to reduce the risks of many types of cancer. They may also help regulate blood glucose in people living with diabetes. Other studies have also shown that people who consume more whole grains consistently weigh less than those who consumed less whole grain products.

In January 2005, the US government published the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. One of the new guidelines recommends that all adults eat half their grains as whole grains — that’s at least 3 servings of whole grains a day.

whole grains health benefitsIncrease whole grain intake: An easy way to increase whole grain intake is to replace some of your refined-grain products with whole grain products.

* have a slice of whole grain bread to replace your white bread
* have a serving of whole grain breakfast cereal in the morning
* substitute half the white flour with whole wheat flour in your regular recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes
* add brown rice, wild rice or barley in your vegetable soup
* snack on popcorn instead of chips on movie nights

whole grains health benefitswhole grains health benefitsCheck labels carefully! Foods labelled with the words “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “100% wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “seven-grain,” or “bran” are usually not whole-grain products. Color is also not an indication of a whole grain. Brown does not necessary mean whole wheat or whole grain! Some brown bread has brown coloring added to achieve the brown color!

When determining if a packaged food product contains whole grain or not, look for the word “whole” in the ingredient list. Also look for the Whole Grain Stamp (see above examples). A “good source” stamp contains at least 1/2 serving of whole grains while an “excellent source” contains at least 1 serving of whole grains.

http://www.healthcastle.com/whole-grains.shtml

The Nutrition Source: Health Gains from Whole Grains

Categories: Articles, Food Education

The Nutrition Source
Health Gains from Whole Grains

Examples of Whole Grains (examples2Dwhole2Dgrains.jpg)

* Whole wheat berries, whole wheat bulgur, whole wheat couscous and other strains of wheat such as kamut and spelt
* Brown rice (including quick-cooking brown rice)
* Corn, whole cornmeal, popcorn
* Oat groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats (including quick cooking and instant oatmeal)
* Whole rye
* Hulled barley (pot, scotch, and pearled barley often have much of their bran removed)
* Triticale (pronounced tri-ti-kay-lee)
* Millet
* Teff (reported to be the world’s smallest grain and to have a sweet, malt-like flavor)
* Buckwheat, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), wild rice, and amaranth are considered whole grains even though botanically they are not in the grain family of plants

For millennia, the grains humans ate came straight from the stalk. That means they got a carbohydrate package rich in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, plant enzymes, hormones, and hundreds of other phytochemicals. Even after we learned how to grind grain, we still got all of the goodness that grains pack in their three layers. Whole grains have a tough, fibrous outer layer called bran that protects the inside of the kernel. The interior contains mostly the starchy endosperm. Its job is to provide stored energy for the germ, the seed’s reproductive kernel, which nestles inside the endosperm. The germ is rich in vitamins, minerals, and unsaturated oils.

The invention of industrialized roller mills in the late 19th century changed what we got from grains. Milling strips away the bran and germ, making the grain easier to chew, easier to digest, and easier to keep without refrigeration (the healthy oils in the germ can turn rancid, giving the grain an off taste). Processing also pulverizes the endosperm, turning it from a small, solid nugget into millions of minuscule particles. Refining wheat creates fluffy flour that makes light, airy breads and pastries. But there’s a nutritional price to be paid. The process strips away more than half of wheat’s B vitamins, 90 percent of the vitamin E, and virtually all of the fiber. It also makes the starch easily accessible to the body’s starch-digesting enzymes.

A growing body of research shows that returning to whole grains and other less-processed sources of carbohydrates improves health in myriad ways.
What Whole Grains Can Do For You

As researchers have begun to look more closely at carbohydrates and health, they are learning that the quality of the carbohydrates you eat is at least as important as the quantity. Most studies, including some from several different Harvard teams, show a connection between eating whole grains and better health.

Cardiovascular Disease

Eating whole instead of refined grains substantially lowers total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels. Any of these changes would be expected to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. In the Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study, women who ate 2 to 3 servings of whole-grain products (mostly bread and breakfast cereals) each day were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease over a 10-year period than women who ate less than 1 serving per week (1). A recent meta-analysis of seven major studies showed that cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, or the need for a procedure to bypass or open a clogged artery) was 21 percent less likely in people who ate 2.5 or more servings of whole-grain foods a day compared with those who ate less than 2 servings a week (2).

Type 2 Diabetes

In a study of more than 160,000 women whose health and dietary habits were followed for up to 18 years, those who averaged 2 to 3 servings of whole grains a day were 30 percent less likely to have developed type 2 diabetes than those who rarely ate whole grains (3). When the researchers combined these results with those of several other large studies, they found that eating an extra 2 servings of whole grains a day decreased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 21 percent.

Cancer

The data on cancer are mixed, with some studies showing a protective effect and others showing none (4). A large, five-year study among nearly 500,000 men and women suggests that eating whole grains, but not dietary fiber, offers modest protection against colorectal cancer (5, 6).

Digestive Health

By keeping the stool soft and bulky, the fiber in whole grains helps prevent constipation, a common, costly, and aggravating problem. It also helps prevent diverticular disease (the development of tiny pouches inside the colon that are easily irritated and inflamed) by decreasing pressure in the intestines.

Staying Alive

An intriguing report from the Iowa Women’s Health Study linked whole-grain consumption with fewer deaths from noncardiac, noncancer causes. Compared with women who rarely or never ate whole-grain foods, those who had at least two or more servings a day were 30 percent less likely to have died from an inflammation-related condition over a 17-year period (7).

How Do Whole Grains Do This?

Whole grains don’t contain a magical nutrient that fights disease and improves health. It’s the entire package—elements intact and working together—that’s important.

The bran and fiber in whole grains make it more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down the starches into glucose. Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber helps move waste through the digestive tract. Fiber may also kindle the body’s natural anticoagulants and so help prevent the formation of small blood clots that can trigger heart attacks or strokes. The collection of antioxidants prevents LDL cholesterol from reacting with oxygen. Some experts think this reaction is a key early step in the development of cholesterol-clogged arteries. Phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) found in whole grains may protect against some cancers. So might essential minerals, such as magnesium, selenium, copper, and manganese. These minerals may also help reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes. And then there are the hundreds of substances that haven’t yet been identified, some or many of which may play as-yet-undiscovered roles in health.

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/health-gains-from-whole-grains/index.html