The G.I. of Grains - Why Grains Get a Bad Rap

by Callum Allan on Oct 31, 2022

The G.I. of Grains - Why Grains Get a Bad Rap

You've probably heard that grains are "bad" for you. But why? What have grains done to deserve this reputation? Let's take a closer look at the science behind grains and see if they really are as bad as everyone says they are.


Whole Grains and Digestive Health 

There are two main types of carbohydrates - whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain kernel - the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have been milled, which removes the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm. This process also removes some of the dietary fibre, iron, and B vitamins.


Dietary fibre is an important part of a healthy diet. It helps with bowel regularity and can reduce your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes. Because whole grains still contain bran and germ, they're a good source of dietary fibre. Studies have shown that eating more whole grains can help improve digestive health by promoting regularity and reducing constipation (1). 


Whole grains also tend to be rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that refined grains lack. For example, whole wheat flour is a good source of niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin E (2). These nutrients are important for supporting a healthy immune system, maintaining bone health, and reducing inflammation throughout the body. 


So if whole grains are so good for you, why do people say they're bad? 


The Truth About Gluten 

Grains get a bad rap because of something called gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats that some people are sensitive to. When people with gluten sensitivity eat foods containing gluten, they may experience symptoms like diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, or headaches (3). In severe cases, gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine leading to malabsorption of nutrients (4). 


It's estimated that up to 6% of the population has some form of gluten sensitivity (5), although only 1% has celiac disease - the most severe form of gluten intolerance (3). If you think you may be sensitive to gluten, it's important to speak to your doctor or dietitian to get properly diagnosed. Once you know for sure whether or not you have sensitivity or intolerance, you can make the necessary changes to your diet accordingly. 



Grain Brain or No Brain?   

Most people don't need to worry about cutting out all-grain foods from their diet unless they have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, if you do choose to eat grain foods, make sure they're mostly whole grain varieties like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, farro, millet, etc., rather than refined varieties like white bread, white rice, pasta, etc. Eating more whole-grain foods is linked with improved digestive health, better blood sugar control, and reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. So next time someone tells you that grain foods are bad for you – don't believe the hype!