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Whole Grains Protect Our Brains

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

By Oran Aviv

The same foods and lifestyles that keep our body healthy, also protect our brain. Whole grains are extremely important for our health and our brain, yet today most of the grains we eat are refined and stripped of nutrients along with their wonderful health potential. The good news is that it is easy to add whole grains to our diet.

Keep Our Brains Nourished

Research has shown that whole grains may reduce the risk of diabetes and poor gut health, as well as reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart or blood vessels.) Reduced blood flow to the brain, can cause vascular dementia.

Researchers measured blood flow in the carotid artery, a major artery that supplies blood to the brain. They found that those who ate whole grains had less plaque built up in this artery. Eating whole grains can help keep our arteries clear and allow blood to flow to our brain and perhaps prevent vascular dementia.

You can read more about vascular dementia and how to prevent it in our blog article: The Dementia You Can Prevent.

It is now recommended that we eat 3 portions of whole grains every day. Recent findings from a meta-analysis by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that the current recommended dietary guidelines of 3 daily servings (48 grams) of whole grains, improves long term health and also prevents premature death.

Whole Grains for Weight Loss

Many people try to avoid carbs while dieting, but not all carbs are created equally. Did you know that eating whole grain can help you lose weight?

In his doctoral dissertation, Consumption of Whole Grains and Cardiometabolic Health. which Hu, Yang graciously shares on-line, Hu shows in his research the connection between whole grains and weight loss.

Increased consumption of most whole grain foods were associated with significantly less weight gain”

Hu also found that consumption of whole grains particularly helps obese individuals to control weight gain.

Hu also wrote that just switching one portion of refined grain with the same amount of a whole grain can result in “significant weight loss.”

For those of you who think that eating cold breakfast that advertises itself as high fiber counts as a whole grain, think again. In his research Hu shows that both cold breakfast cereal and dark bread did not help with weight loss.

You need to eat real whole grains!

Where Have All the Whole Grains Gone?

Once upon a time civilizations all over the world ate whole grains, but today most of our grains are processed, unless you buy them in the health food stores or health food sections of your supermarket.

Refining grains makes them perhaps look and taste better and have a longer shelf life, but the process removes many of the important nutrients and fiber that keep us healthy. To compensate, food companies add chemicals (synthetic vitamins) to replace the nutrients that are lost.

If aliens are looking at mankind, they must think we are insane! Rather than eating the whole grain that is so important to our health, we rid the grain of its healthiest parts and then add chemicals to replace it. Why not eat the whole grain instead?

The problem is that most people have become accustomed to refined grains. Once you get used to white rice, brown, whole grain rice does not taste as good.

I recommend changing over slowly. Start making rice with 2/3 white and 1/3 whole grain rice. At least this way you are getting some grains that are healthy for you. In time try a combination of ½ white and ½ whole rice. If you slowly continue increasing the whole grain ratio, you may be surprised to see that in a few months you will start enjoying whole grain rice. Even small changes in our diet can be significant. Remember that research shows that just switching one portion of refined grain with the same amount of a whole grain can result in significant weight loss.

Guess What Is a Whole Grain!

On the days I write my blog, or if I need to prepare a power point presentation – I tend to eat all day. I don’t know if is from stress or if I need more blood sugar running to my brain to focus, but I eat and I snack while I’m working.

I almost always make popcorn on these days because I feel it is a healthier choice for a snack. Imagine how happy I was to hear that light/fat free popcorn, which is made from the whole kernel is considered a whole grain!

3 cups of popped popcorn equal one serving of whole grains. Remember, we want to eat at least 3 servings of whole grains a day for better health and to protect our brain.

Years ago I bought a hot air popper so I can make popcorn without any oil. It only takes a few minutes for 1/3 cup of corn kernels to turn into 6 cups of a healthy, nutritious snack!

One of the 2 bowls of popcorn I ate today while writing this blog

For those who may be asking, yes cooked corn on the cob is also a healthy whole grain, but degermed cornmeal or corn flour is not whole grain.

Look at what the Whole Grain Council writes about corn:

Whole grain corn provides a good source (greater than or equal to 10% of the recommended Daily Value) of the following nutrients: fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium and thiamine. Corn also contains more than 10 times the amount of vitamin A of other grains. Recent research shows that corn is also high in antioxidants and carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin that are associated with eye health. If you have celiac disease remember, corn is one of the many great gluten-free grain options!

I hope many of you will be as excited as I was to discover that eating popcorn is healthy. Please remember that it is healthy when eaten without butter and oils as found in the microwave versions. Remember too that popcorn can be a chocking hazard for younger children.

It is important to eat a variety of grains, so adding popcorn to your diet is great, but also make sure you eat other whole grains as well.

Ode to a Grain of Rice

Have you ever thought about what is inside whole grain rice?

Several years ago I hosted a cooking class with Macrobiotic Chef and author Jessica Porter. What I remember most from this class, was not her recipes (sorry Jessica), but how she explained the importance of a whole grain of rice.

Myself with Jessica Porter

Jessica began the class by holding up a single grain of rice in her hand and said that this grain can be sitting around for a hundred years, but if you plant it in water, it becomes a full plant that can produce more rice.

Jessica talked in awe of how rice has everything it needs compacted into this teeny tiny little grain. That is also why a grain of rice is such an important nutrient, because inside it, it has everything it needs to grow.

Whole rice is an important staple in the Macrobiotic diet. Macrobiotic rice is first soaked 6 hours before cooking to help release its packed nutrients and remove phytic acid .

Where Does Rice Come From?

Today we don’t pick our fruit from a tree or our vegetables from the ground. We enter a store and can chose from a variety of produce from all over he world.

I’m guessing that we probably wouldn’t recognize many types of produce, even something that we eat often, if it was growing in the field. I find that if I draw a picture of a carrot with the greens on top, sadly most children today won’t recognize what I drew.

When we recently traveled to Bhutan, we were so excited to see the beautiful rice paddies throughout the Paro Valley.

Rice fields in the Paro Valley, Bhutan

We asked our guide to stop so we could see what rice looks like. I know how wheat and barley grow, but even though rice is the whole grain I eat the most, I had never seen a rice stalk.

This is what a stalk of rice looks like

We were fortunate to be in Bhutan during the rice harvest which is once a year in most of Bhutan and twice year in some of the warmer regions. The rice is grown on family farms.

It takes about 6 months from planting the crop till harvest. If a cow manages to get into the rice paddies their entire crop can be gone overnight! That is way there are small canals all around the rice paddies to keep cows and other animals out. Harvest is a family event, and it is all done by hand. I looked up some of the terms for the rice harvest to explain what we witnessed at this foamily farm.

Reaping; The rice is cut leaving a short stalk.

Reaped rice, a stupa (Buddhist shrine) and prayer flags at a family farm in Bhutan

Threshing: Removing the grain of rice from the stalk. This is done by hand by lifting the stalks high above the head and sharply hitting them on the ground to release all the rice grains. It is a very strenuous and difficult job to do by hand.


The stalks are bundled and used as food for livestock.


To separate the rice from hulls, the whole rice is put into a pan and thrown it into the air while the wind blows. The light hulls are blown away while the heavy rice falls back into the pan or in this case, back to the ground.

Allowing the wind to blow away the light husks

Not everywhere in the world is the process of growing and harvesting rice done by hand and is so difficult, but I will never look at plate of rice in the same way. I will always think of these rice farmers all over Bhutan.

Thanks to this lovely farming family who allowed us to take photos of their rice harvest

Guess what we are having for dinner tonight!

Special thanks to everyone at Bhutan Travel Adventures who went out of there way to make our trip to Bhutan extraordinary!


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