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Whole Grains for Longevity
If you’re over the age of 45, you may consider yourself to be a baby boomer… but there’s a term for people of this age group who are enjoying life and leading healthy lifestyles. They’re called “Zoomers” because they’re boomers with “Zip”.
Aging’s effect on the body
The aging process often brings with it increased inflammation – a risk factor for chronic diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. But there are ways to lower the inflammation to slow down the aging process and maintain optimal wellness. The key to aging gracefully is following a healthy lifestyle: namely, an anti-inflammatory diet and engaging in regular physical activity.
One aspect of a healthy diet that will take you from “Boomer” to “Zoomer” is choosing whole grains in place of processed, refined, “white” carbohydrates. “Whole grain” means that all parts of the grain, including the germ (rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant), bran (rich in fibre) and endosperm (rich in starch) are included. Refined grains have usually had the germ and bran removed. This means that refined grains such as white rice, pasta and white bread will be low in fibre and antioxidants. These nutrients are key to slowing down the aging process and preventing chronic diseases.
Three cheers for fibre!
Fibre is needed for a healthy digestive system and lowers the risk of colorectal cancer. Eating foods high in fibre such as whole grains can help stabilize blood sugar levels. Compare this to refined grains which cause blood sugar to spike and then crash – a nightmare for energy levels. This blood sugar roller coaster can also cause your pancreas to produce lots of insulin, which can cause extra storage of fat where we least want it – around the waist. Over time, this excess production of insulin may cause your pancreas to work too hard or make your cells less sensitive to insulin. This can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. All the more reason to choose the slow-release whole grains to provide you with sustained energy and more stable blood sugar.
Fibre is great because it allows people to feel satisfied with less food. This is important for achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, an important part of looking and feeling your best. Staying slim and trim lowers your risk of several types of cancer and heart disease. Some types of fibre also help lower levels of “lousy” LDL cholesterol, further lowering your heart disease risk.
More reasons to love your whole grains
Whole grains are rich in minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus. Magnesium is needed for nerve function, strong bones and muscle, regulating your heart rate and a healthy immune system. It also plays a role in keeping blood pressure and blood sugar levels stable. Phosphorus is needed to form bone, DNA and cell membranes. It is also used to turn fat into energy.
Whole grains are packed with phytonutrients called polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that remove free radicals from the body before they can damage healthy cells, which may reduce signs of aging and the risk of cancer and heart disease. Whole grains also contain plant nutrients called lignans that may help prevent breast cancer and heart disease.
When choosing bread, don’t fall for the trap of thinking “whole wheat” or “multigrain” breads are whole grain. They often aren’t! Look at the ingredient list and make sure before each grain on the list, you see the words “whole grain” or “stone ground”. For example, “whole grain millet flour”. This is the only way to know you’re getting a whole grain bread.
Whole grains to try:
Buckwheat is a gluten-free seed related to rhubarb. It is high in fibre, with 1 cup providing 14 grams. Choosing foods high in fibre can help you get to and keep a healthy body weight. Diets that include whole grains such as buckwheat are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
Millet is a good source of magnesium, a mineral that may help prevent migraines, lower blood pressure and reduce heart disease risk.
Non-GMO Whole corn is a whole grain. At 4.6 grams of fiber per cup, corn is high in fibre. Fibre helps control blood sugar, cholesterol and helps promote a healthy digestive system. Corn contains several antioxidants. Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants in corn that may help prevent and manage arthritis, cataracts, and vision loss.
Wild rice is a type of edible grass that is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than brown rice. It contains more vitamin A (needed for healthy eyes) and folate (needed for red blood cell formation) than brown rice, but is lower in minerals.
Oats contain a type of fibre called beta-glucan that has been shown to lower “lousy” LDL cholesterol levels. High LDL levels are associated with a higher risk of heart disease. In cell studies, beta-glucan activated cancer-fighting cells such as T-cells and natural killer cells.
Christy Brissette, MSc, RD is a registered dietitian specializing in nutrition to prevent and manage chronic diseases. Visit: www.ChristyBrissette.com