Wheat is the key ingredient in the American diet. Unfortunately, after being milled, it is seldom utilized in its whole form with its components intact. The wheat we consume is in the form of bread, pies, cakes, cookies, biscuits, spaghetti, cream of wheat, cereals, and other forms that have been treated, heated, fractioned, and fragmented. Is consuming refined grains harmful?
Almost every nutrition expert agrees that refined carbs should be limited, however, they are still the main source of dietary carbs in many countries.
What Are Refined Carbs?
Refined carbs are also known as simple carbs or processed carbs, and there are these two main types:
Refined carbs have been stripped of almost all fiber, vitamins, and minerals. For this reason, they can be considered as “empty” calories. They lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.
Items made with refined grains are also digested quickly making them high glycemic foods; eating high GI foods results in rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels which is linked to overeating and increased risk of many diseases.
Sadly, sugars and refined grains are a very large part of the total carbohydrate intake in many countries. The main dietary sources of refined carbs are white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, sodas, snacks, pasta, sweets, breakfast cereals and added sugars. Most processed foods also contain refined grains and added sugar.
How are grains refined?
Whole grains consist of three main parts:
The bran and germ are the most nutritious parts of whole grains. They contain high amounts of many nutrients, such as fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and selenium.
During the refining process, the bran and germ are removed, along with all the nutrients they contain, leaving almost no fiber, vitamins, or minerals in the refined grains. The only thing left is rapidly digested starch with small amounts of protein. Whole grains are very high in dietary fiber.
That being said, some producers enrich their products with synthetic vitamins to make up for some of the loss in nutrients. Whether or not synthetic vitamins are as good as natural vitamins has long been debated. Most people will agree that getting your nutrients from whole foods is always the best choice.
Diets high in refined carbs also tend to be low in fiber. Low-fiber diets have been linked with an increased risk of diseases like heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and various digestive problems.
Abdominal Fat – Consuming mainly refined grains may increase your visceral adipose tissue (VAT), a type of fat found around your organs, and may eventually lead to diabetes and heart disease. According to one study, participants who consumed at least three servings of whole grains per day had approximately 10 percent less VAT than people who consumed only refined grains.
Overeating and Increase the Risk of Obesity- A large portion of the population is overweight or obese. Eating too many refined carbs may be one of the main culprits. Because they are low in fiber and digested quickly, eating refined carbs can cause major swings in blood sugar levels. Refined carbs, being high on the glycemic index, contribute to overeating because they are digested so quickly within approximately one hour. On the other hand, foods that are low on the glycemic index promote a sustained feeling of fullness, which lasts about two to three hours.
Heart Health-Consuming refined grains instead of whole grains may result in atherosclerosis, or thickening of the arteries, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Another study found the bran component of whole grains, which is no longer present in refined grains, may be most protective against heart disease, as study participants who consumed the most added bran had the lowest risk for heart disease.
Diabetes-People who consumed fewer whole grains and more refined grains have a higher risk for diabetes. Studies show that a high consumption of refined carbs is linked with insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels, the two main symptoms of type 2 diabetes. This may be in part due to the lower fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E content of refined-grain foods, as these nutrients are decreased when whole grains are refined.
Mortality-While fiber from whole grains may be protective against early mortality; the same is not true with fiber from refined grains. The fiber in refined grains comes from the endosperm of the grain which doesn’t contain many nutrients, while the fiber in whole grains also includes fiber from the bran and germ of the grain thus containing a higher nutrient content. The beneficial effects of whole grains may be due to more than the fiber contained in these grains.
Refined grains and their food products are substandard foods for several reasons:
In the US, the familiar white flour which is the result of modern refining process is 72% extraction. This means that it has lost 28% of the bulk of the wheat, including half or more of many of the crucial nutrients. It would be prudent to cut down on refined flour products and instead opt for whole grains.
Eating a lot of refined carbs can have many negative health effects, however, not all carbs are bad. Some carbohydrate-rich, whole foods are extremely healthy and great sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and various beneficial plant compounds including vegetables, fruit, legumes, root vegetables and whole grains, such as oats and barley. Unless you are following a carb-restricted diet, there is absolutely NO reason to avoid these foods just because they contain carbs.