Grain brain. Wheat belly. These days, plenty of people are steering clear of everything from bread, to pasta, to rice in the name of feeling their best. But not all carbs are created equal.
Sure, white bread or pasta can leave you feeling foggy, bloated, and primed to gorge on sugary junk. But whole grains like whole wheat, oats, brown rice and quinoa are a completely different story — delivering sustainable energy and plenty of science-backed health benefits.
Here’s why you should make them mainstays on your menu.
- They keep you satisfied—and promote a healthier weight.
Unlike their refined counterparts, whole grains are loaded with fiber, which fills you up quickly, moves through your digestive system slowly, and promotes steadier blood sugar levels. Because of this, you stay fuller longer and are less prone to the blood sugar crashes that can cause you to crave sugary junk. Add it all up, and it’s no surprise that whole grain eaters tend to have lower BMIs and healthier waist circumferences compared to whole grain skippers.
- They can support a healthy digestion.
Think of the fiber in whole grains like a sponge in your digestive tract. It soaks up water to keep your stool soft and bulky, which helps prevent constipation. Many whole grains, like whole wheat and oats, are also good sources of prebiotics, compounds that feed the good bacteria in your gut to promote a healthier, happier belly.
- They help protect your heart.
Findings show that a diet rich in whole grains can lower the risk for stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes by around a third. In part, that could be because the fiber in whole grains can lower cholesterol and even help prevent the formation of small blood clots, say Harvard health experts. But fiber isn’t the only factor at play. Whole grains deliver a wealth of heart-healthy phytochemicals and antioxidants, too.
- They may boost your brain health.
That whole thing about grains being bad for your brain? It depends what kind you eat. Diets higher in refined grains (along with processed or fried food, sugar, and unhealthy fats) are tied to higher rates of cognitive decline. But the opposite seems to be true for whole grains. Eating them often is linked to lower levels of inflammation in the brain, which is thought to contribute to lower levels of cognitive decline.
- They might even help you live longer.
When you think about all of the impressive things that whole grains can do for your health, it makes sense. In a major study that followed some 117,000 men and women for 25 years, whole grain intake was tied to a 15% lower risk of dying.
Easy ways to go with the grain
A pot of brown rice or steel-cut oatmeal isn’t exactly something you can whip up quickly. Prep longer-cooking grains in big batches on the weekends, and reheat them for fast meals all week long. Or stick to quicker-cooking whole grains when you’re short on time—like rolled oats, quinoa, or parboiled brown rice.