If you're avoiding whole grains in fear of becoming a gassy, bloated mess, rethink your strategy. Although your intestines may revolt a bit at first if you don't eat much fiber right now, you will most likely adapt to increased fiber intake over time. What's more, whole grains are chock full of nutrients that their refined counterparts are lacking. By filling your plate with whole choices, you'll help defend yourself against high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers.
The ugly truth about processed grains is that milling strips away most of their fiber. By choosing whole grains instead, you get to keep all of their fibrous glory. Fiber bulks up and softens your stool, allowing waste to pass more easily through your colon. This means less blockage, which means constipation may become a distant memory. If you suffer from bowel irregularity now, whole grains may be a safer and gentler option than harsh laxatives. Of course, chronic constipation could also indicate other medical conditions, so see your doctor if this problem persists.
If whole grains make your intestines start to gurgle, the fiber could be to blame. Although fiber is healthy for your digestive system, gas is sometimes an unpleasant side effect. Before immediately blaming grains, however, look at other possibilities -- fats and dairy can also bring on the bloat. If fiber really is to blame, cut down for a few days. Then slowly incorporate whole grains and other high-fiber foods into your diet so that your body has time to adjust. If gas persists, see your doctor for treatment options.
If you need another reason to stock up on whole grains, think about how it would feel if tiny pouches formed in your colon, filled up with undigested food and then became infected. Half of Americans over the age of 60 develop intestinal pouches, which form because of lack of fiber in their diet. Most don't know they have this condition, which is known as diverticulosis. When the pouches become infected, the condition is called diverticulitis.
In an ideal world, all of your grains would be whole. However, eating all whole grain foods may be impractical and difficult to sustain. Start out with the recommendation from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans by getting at least half of your grains from whole sources. Options include brown rice, buckwheat noodles, whole-wheat bread or pasta, corn tortillas and popcorn. Always read your labels, and put the product back on the shelf if the first ingredient is white flour.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.