There’s no question that whole grains are healthy, but brand new research suggests that whole grains increase metabolism and perhaps even help with weight loss.
Whole grains include items like brown rice, oats, wheat, barley, and whole wheat flour that feature the entire grain kernel, making them excellent sources of fiber, iron, and B vitamins. Compared to their refined counterparts, whole grains are without doubt the superior option for nutrition. Some added value may be that whole grains can help with weight loss.
Health Benefits of Whole Grains
Whole grains are associated with improved heart health, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduced risk of atherosclerosis and improved digestion. The reason for many of these benefits—if not all of them—is the presence of fiber. Iron and B vitamins can be added back to refined grains, but fiber cannot. Fiber is extremely beneficial to health, and in my opinion, one of the most effective dietary tools.
Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains: What’s the Difference?
Whole grains include those where the entire grain kernel remains intact—just think, they’re “whole” grains. All the nutrition found in the germ, endosperm, and bran remains untouched and include:
- B vitamins
When these grains have been processed, however, the bran and germ are removed and only the endosperm remains. With the removal, most of the nutrients aforementioned are lost, leading to a radically different outcome in taste, dietary value, and reactions inside your body. The choice between whole grains and refined can have a massive health impact and play a role in preventing, or encouraging, disease, and weight gain.
Whole Grain Benefits for Weight Loss and Metabolism: What New Data Says
The eight-week study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the effects of whole grains and refined grains on metabolism and weight in 81 men and women between the ages of 40 and 65.
Researchers provided all food for the duration of the study. Anything that wasn’t eaten was returned. Weight, metabolic rate, blood glucose, fecal calories, hunger and fullness were measured before, during, and following the study period. Participants were also instructed to maintain any current levels of exercise.
During the first two weeks, participants followed identical diets so their caloric and macronutrients requirements could be individualized. The group was then randomly split into two: one whole-grains group and one refined-grains group. The difference between the groups was mostly found in the total fiber content, with whole grains providing much more. Meals were similarly structured. For example, if dinner was chicken, rice, and broccoli, one group simply got brown rice, while the other got white.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers found the group eating whole grains had a higher resting metabolic rate (they burned more calories) and had greater fecal losses compared to the refined group. Greater fecal loss is what’s lost through bowel movements; fiber was noted to improve digestion and remove waste faster. Furthermore, the whole grain participants got the daily recommended fiber allowance (30-35g) and lost about 100 calories extra per day.
So, How Do Whole Grains Increase Metabolism?
Whole grains require more work for the body to break down and thus, use up more energy. In doing this, they keep you feeling fuller and satisfied longer, limiting the likelihood of snacking.
On the other hand, the body absorbs and metabolizes refined grains very quickly, requiring little energy or long-term satisfaction. In addition to varying metabolizing rates, refined sugars can lead to spikes in blood sugar (blood glucose), requiring the release of insulin to take it to your cells for energy. What happens, however, is much of that energy can be wasted because energy stores (glycogen) are filled, leading the sugar to remain in the blood or be stored as fat. This doesn’t really happen with whole grains because it takes longer for the energy to be absorbed and released, while avoiding spikes in blood sugar. This is largely due to the presence of fiber.
Refined grains like white bread and rice, for example, are therefore more closely associated with weight gain and its associated conditions like metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
As far as the direct influence on weight loss goes, researchers noted that those who ate whole grains experienced the same caloric loss as one may lose in a brisk 30-minute walk.
How to Include More Whole Grains in Your Diet
It’s very easy to add whole grains to your diet, and the benefits are definitely worth it. The most you’ll have to do is select the brown option available directly beside the white one—most of the time. Sometimes the marketing companies will trick you by adding brown food coloring to products like rice and breads, so there are some things you’ll want to look for. A little yellow stamp from the Whole Grain Council is an important clue. This means it’s been approved and is, in fact, a whole grain. All you need is about one and a half or two cups worth of brown rice or oatmeal each day to get the benefits.
Some products are not marked, such as the Food for Life brand’s Ezekiel Sprouted Grain English muffins. They don’t have the stamp, but they are certified organic and feature a number of whole grains. Some easy swaps you can make include:
- Brown rice for white rice
- Whole grain pasta instead of white pasta
- Oats for breakfast instead of muffins, donuts or Danishes
- Whole grain pizza crusts instead of white crust (especially good if you like thin crust pizza)
- Quinoa for white rice or pasta
- Whole grain breads/English muffins instead of white
- Experiment with various whole grain flours
Nichols, H., “Whole grains increase metabolism, may help promote weight loss,” Medical News Today, February 9, 2017; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315744.php, last accessed March 8, 2017.
“New study suggests that eating whole grains increases metabolism and calorie loss” Tufts University, February 8, 2017; http://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/new-study-suggests-eating-whole-grains-increases-metabolism-and-calorie-loss, last accessed March 8, 2017.