HEALTH

Marta Montenegro: What’s in a Whole Grain?

Who hasn’t heard about the benefits of having a diet rich in fiber?  Whether the goal is to decrease body fat or to lower the risks of heart disease and diabetes, fiber is a must. But where does the fiber in your diet content come from?

You may not know that not all “whole grain” labeled products provide the same amount of fiber.  And, even though in the scientific field whole grains are not asserted as fiber-rich, people’s perceptions is that they all are.

“The largest amount of dietary fiber in the diet generally comes from whole grains as we consume four to five times as much bread and grain products as fruits and vegetables,” says Nancy Chapman, MPH, RD, Executive Director of the Soyfoods Association of North America.

Claims confusion

Experts advise that when reading labels the first ingredient listed should be whole grain. Nevertheless, while whole grains do play a role in the delivering dietary fiber, the level of fiber varies substantially across various types of whole grains as well as in products containing them, according to the article “The Fiber Deficit, Part I” published in Nutrition Today.

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Just comparing two very popular whole grain tortilla chips,  one has 3g of fiber while the other has 1g of fiber based on the same portion size. In a similar case, 100g of bulgur provides a staggering 18.3 g of fiber, while brown rice has 3.4 g fiber for the same 100 g.

Soluble and Insoluble

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for American recommends 25 to 38 g/day of fiber for women and men respectively. As important as is to have a diet rich in fiber, it is also good to include plenty of types.

Chapman explains that there are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.

“Soluble fibers help lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes, while insoluble fibers are important to promoting bowel movements and providing bulk for feeling full,” she says.

Soluble fiber appears in oats, bran, apple and potatoes, among others, while good sources of the insoluble fiber show up in nuts, whole-wheat flour and many vegetables, adds Chapman.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber eaten per day, belly fat was reduced by 3.7 percent.

“Ten grams of soluble fiber can be achieved by eating two small apples, one cup of green peas and one-half cup of pinto beans,” said Kristen Hairston, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest Baptist and lead researcher on the study.

Worthless calories

On average, Americans are not meeting the fiber intake recommendations in spite of the added consumption of whole grain products.  Or even worse, they may increase the overall caloric intake by justifying the fiber need of adding whole grain products to their diets.

“We must educate consumers on how to find whole-grain foods that provide at least a good source of fiber. Likewise, adding fiber to foods typically eaten – with the addition of bran, germ, and other concentrated sources of fibers – may be an option to help meet the fiber recommendations without increasing the energy intake,” according to the authors of the Wake Forest study.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, participants who consumed whole grain products experienced a greater reduction in the percentage of fat mass when compared to those consuming refined foods. Furthermore, refined-grain consumption increased serum total and LDL cholesterol, concludes the study.

But what type of whole grain foods did the participants eat? The study sheds some light on this matter. Oat and barely foods, rich in soluble Beta-glucans exhibit cholesterol-lowering properties, whereas wheat and rice most of them do not.

“It’s been suggested that durum wheat may be superior to common wheat with regards to lipid lowering properties and a large proportion of the whole grain consumed in the study was indeed durum,”  explains the study.

In another study, participants who ate approximately three daily servings of whole grains had significantly lower abdominal fat.

Marketing of whole grain products is tricky and can be deceiving. Even though there are some parameters that food companies should follow as stated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these are not clear. Unfortunately, you, as a consumer, have the task to self-educate to avoid being caught up in sale- driven food claims that won’t do any good to your belly.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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