The critical link between diet and health was propagated nearly 2,500 years ago when Hippocrates espoused, “Let food be the medicine and medicine be the food.” The concept, however, has only recently been embraced by people who are now conscious about what they consume.
Many physical and emotional ailments are traced back to a deficiency in the diet. According to recent estimates released by the World Health Organization, about 47% of total global deaths are attributed to non-communicable diseases. Among them, cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of mortality: close to 25% suffer from it in developing countries like Pakistan, followed by cancer, arthritis and diabetes.
Whole grains such as millet, buckwheat, barley etc, in turn, can address a number of these diet-related ailments — effectively, economically and above all, naturally. They help against diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, obesity and weight gain, certain type of cancers, arthritis and gastrointestinal problems. Epidemiological studies have consistently proven that whole grain consumption is positively linked to decreased incidence of heart diseases. This happens because the the outer part of the grain, called the bran, preserves valuable nutrients including fibre, iron, zinc, vitamin B, vitamin E and certain antioxidants that would otherwise be lost during the milling process.
Hale and hearty
Although dietary fibre is responsible for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), various scientific studies have proven the consumption of whole grains alone has a greater impact on CVD reduction. A recent meta-analysis of seven studies estimated a 21% reduction in risks of CVDs by consuming whole grains thrice a day. Nearly one-third of the deaths attributable to CVDs can be prevented.
Diabetes, one of the most prevalent diseases globally and in Pakistan, can be easily combated by consuming whole grains. Due to their slower digestibility, whole grains impact blood glucose and insulin metabolism positively. A study conducted on 90,000 women and 45,000 men suggested that those with higher intake of whole grains and cereal fibre have almost 30% lesser chance of developing type-II diabetes.
Weight regulation is another important aspect of disease management. Several clinical trials have proven that less weight gain is observed in individuals who consume whole grains on a daily basis. There is also substantial scientific evidence supporting the role of whole grains against the onset of cancer as dietary fibre, vitamin E, selenium and other factors lower the risk of cancer.
A holistic solution
Gastrointestinal health issues, associated with factors such as age, genetics, environment, diet and lifestyle and characterised by efficient digestion, optimum gut immune responses and absence of inflammation, have also risen considerably over the last two decades due to an increased consumption of refined and junk foods. But whole grains, owing to their rich phytochemistry (plant biochemistry), which has favourable effects on the prevention of chronic diseases, have considerably reduced such ailments as well.
As a result, whole grains are an excellent dietary choice to improve one’s overall health. At least three servings per day, coupled with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in refined sugars and saturated fat, is recommended to keep you at a healthy distance from non-comunicable diseases.
Dr Allah Rakha is an Assistant Professor at National Institute of Food Science & Technology, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad and can be reached at [email protected]
Muhammad Sohail is a PhD scholar at the National Institute of Food Science & Technology and actively engages in research on functional foods and nutraceuticals.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 10th, 2014.