6 Reasons Whole Grains are Better for Survival

If/when there is a food shortage or a disruption in the food production and distribution system, whole grains will become much more important. It is axiomatic that whole grains are healthier than refined grains. But most people do not know why. This post will compare the nutritional content of whole versus refined grains, to highlight the benefits of whole grains when food choices are limited.

1. Total amount of food

Refined grains are produced by milling away the outer layers of the grain. This reduces the total weight of the grain by about 15 to 20%. If there is a nationwide food shortage, it would not make sense to take away such a high percentage of the available food. So whole grains are better in that they provide more food per acre of grain yield.

2. Higher fiber content

The benefits of higher cereal [i.e. grain] fiber intake include: reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes of death [1], reduced risk of coronary heart disease [2], and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes [3]. It also keeps you regular.

Whole wheat flour is 10.7% fiber by weight. Refined (white) flour is 2.7% fiber.

Brown rice is 3.5% fiber, while white rice is 1.3% fiber.

Whole oats are 10.1% fiber, while oat flour, which is typically only partially debranned, is 6.5% fiber.

The health foods amaranth and quinoa are 6.7% and 7.0% fiber, respectively.

3. Protein

Whole grains are higher in protein. The bran part of the grain that is stripped away during the milling process is high in protein, and the protein is of better quality.

Protein is comprised of amino acids; the 8 essential amino acids cannot be manufactured by the body, and so must be obtained in the diet. Whole wheat and brown rice each have a better essential amino acid profile than their refined counterparts (higher percentage of lysine). Amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat are all complete proteins, having all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities and proportions.

Whole wheat flour is 13.2% protein, compared to white flour at 10.3%. Brown rice is about 8% protein by weight, compared to about 7% for long-grain white rice. Medium and short grain rice are even lower in protein. Whole grain oats are 13 to 16% protein. Amaranth and quinoa are 13.5% and 14% protein, respectively.

4. Electrolytes

WebMD: “Electrolytes are minerals, such as sodium and potassium, that are found in the body. They keep your body’s fluids in balance and help keep your body working normally, including your heart rhythm, muscle contraction, and brain function.” [4]

The major electrolytes in the human bloodstream are these seven:

calcium (Ca)
magnesium (Mg)
phosphorous (P)
potassium (K)

sodium (Na)
chloride (Cl)
bicarbonate (HCO3)

Bicarbonate is produced when carbon dioxide is dissolved in the blood. The blood level of CO2 is a function of respiration, metabolism, and kidney function; it is not closely related to diet.

Sufficient sodium and chloride is obtained from salt [sodium chloride] added to food. If you eat a lot of junk food, processed food, and fast food, you might have too much salt in your diet. But if you eat a healthy diet, you probably should be adding about 1/2 teaspoon of salt to your food daily, in order to obtain sufficient sodium and chloride.

Other than salt, there are only 4 food-source electrolytes: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Whole grains are much higher in magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium than refined grains. Amaranth is higher in all three of these electrolytes than other whole grains. But grains are not particularly good sources of calcium. Whole grains have more calcium than refined grains, but you still need another source of that electrolyte.

Calcium is abundant in dairy products: yogurt, cheese, milk, etc. If there is a shortage of dairy products, taking TUMS or similar product, can provide additional calcium. Total calcium from food and supplements should be about 750 mg/day for adult men and 1500 mg/day for adult women.

5. Vitamins

Whole grains are higher in B-vitamins and vitamin E than refined grains. Enriched refined grains have added vitamins, and yet the overall vitamin content of whole grains is better still. Amaranth and quinoa are both good sources of vitamin E.

6. Minerals

In additional to the mineral electrolytes, whole grains are higher in essential minerals, including iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.

– Thoreau

[1] Baer et al., Risk Factors for Mortality in the Nurses’ Health Study: A Competing Risks Analysis; American Journal of Epidemiology. Sept 2010. Vol. 173, No. 3. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/173/3/319.full.pdf

[2] Jensen et al., Intakes of whole grains, bran, and germ and the risk of coronary heart disease in men; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. December 2004, vol. 80, no. 6, p. 1492-1499. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/6/1492.full

[3] Smith and Tucker, Nutrition Research Reviews, “Health benefits of cereal fibre: a review of clinical trials”, 2011 Jun; 24(1): 118-131; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3145818/

[4] WebMD.com, Information and Resources, “Carbon Dioxide (Bicarbonate)”; http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/bicarbonate

3 Responses to 6 Reasons Whole Grains are Better for Survival

  1. To me they seem more filling as well.

  2. What is the best way for nuts and whole grains to be prepared for very long storage? And what would be there storage life?

    • The three rules for food storage are: cool, dry, sealed. Cooler temperatures, such as in a basement, keep all food longer. Seal them in an airtight container, preferably with some salt to absorb moisture. They will still be edible for a few years, though the quality declines over time.