Cereals – Let us take a dip into all the health benefits and more of one of our first and most favorite meal of the day. Cereals are the largest source of energy from food in the world. The three most consumed species are wheat, rice and corn. Despite its frequent consumption, the health effects of cereals are highly controversial. Some think that cereals are an essential part of a healthy diet, while others think it is damaging.
In the US, health authorities recommend women to eat 5 to 6 portions of cereal-containing food per day and men 6 to 8 portions ( 1 ). However, some health experts believe that we can better avoid cereals as much as possible. Now that the paleodite, which leaves the grain, is becoming more and more popular, people around the world avoid grains because they think they are unhealthy. As often in the case of nutrition, both sides have good arguments. This article deals with cereals and their effects on health, which examines both the positive and the negative side.
What are cereals?
Cereals are small, hard and edible dry seeds that grow on grassy plants – the so-called cereal crops. Cereals are the basic foods in most countries and worldwide they provide much more energy from nutrition than any other food group as well. Cereals play an important role in human history, and cereal agriculture is one of the most important improvements in the development of civilization. Cereals are eaten by people, but are also used to feed livestock and fertilize fat. Furthermore, cereals can be processed into various food products.
Today, the most produced and eaten cereals are corn, rice and wheat. Other cereals consumed in smaller quantities include barley, oats, sorghum, millet and rye. Then there are the foods called pseudogranes. These are technically no cereals, but they are prepared and eaten as cereals. These include other quinoa and buckwheat.
Foods made from cereals include bread, pasta, cereal, muesli, oatmeal, tortillas and junk food like pastry and cake. Corn-based products are also used to make ingredients that are added to all sorts of processed foods. For example, glucose-fructose syrup, a major sweetener in American diet, is made from corn.
In short : Cereals are edible dry seeds from plants called cereals. They provide more energy from food than any other food group. The most common cereals are corn, rice and wheat.
Whole grain grains versus refined grains
- Bran (bran): The hard outer layer of the grain. It contains fibers, minerals and antioxidants.
- Kiem (endosperm): The inner core, rich in nutrients, containing the carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and various vegetable nutrients (fytonutrients). The germ is the embryo of the plant, the part from which the new plant is formed.
- Meal kernel (germ): Most of the grain, containing mainly carbohydrates (in the form of starch) and proteins.
From a refined grain, the seed and bran are removed, leaving only the flour core.
Some grains like oats are usually eaten at the most while others are usually refined. Many cereals are eaten especially after they are processed and pulverized to very fine flour. This also applies to wheat.
Important : Remember that the label on a package that states that the full grain grains are very misleading. These grains are often ground to very fine flour and have similar effects to the metabolism as their refined counterparts. This is often seen with processed cereals. These foods are not healthy, even though they may contain small amounts of (ground) whole grain grains.
In short : in a full grain grain the seed and bran still exist. They contain fibers and all kinds of important nutrients. From refined grains, these nutrient-rich parts are removed, leaving only the carbohydrate-rich core.
Some whole grain grains are very nutritious
While refined cereals contain low nutrients (empty calories), this does not matter for whole grain grains. They are usually rich in many nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, manganese and selenium ( 5 , 6 ). This also depends on the type of grain. Some cereals (such as oats and whole wheat) are full of nutrients, while others (such as rice and corn) are not very nutritious, also do not form in their whole grain. Remember that refined grains are often enriched with nutrients such as iron, folic acid and vitamin B to replace some of the nutrients lost during processing ( 7 ).
In short : Refined grains contain few nutrients, but some whole grain grains (such as oats and wheat) are packed with very important nutrients.
Refined grains are extremely unhealthy
Refined grains are the same as whole grain grains except that all the good substances have been removed. There remains nothing but the carbohydrate and calorie rich core with a lot of starch and a little bit of protein. The fibers and nutrients have been removed, and refined cereals can therefore be considered as “empty” calories. Because the carbohydrates of the fibers are separated and may even be ground to flour, they are now easily available for the body’s digestive enzymes. Therefore, they are quickly broken down, which after eating can lead to rapid blood sugar peaks and drops. If we eat nutrition with refined carbohydrates, our blood sugar rises quickly and then falls back very quickly. When the blood sugar levels drop we get hungry and crave for food (“cravings”) (8 ). Numerous studies show that transfusions are handled by eating this type of food. This may lead to weight gain and obesity ( 9 , 10 ).
Refined grains are also associated with numerous metabolic disorders. They can work out insulin resistance and are also associated with diabetic 2 and heart disease ( 11 , 12 , 13). From nutritional point of view, there is nothing positive about refined grains. They contain few nutrients, are thickening and harmful and most people eat too much of it. Unfortunately, the grain consumption of most people consists of the refined species. But very few people in the Western world eat proper amounts of whole grain grains.
In short : Refined grains contain many carbohydrates that are rapidly digested and absorbed, leading to rapid blood sugar peaks and subsequent hunger and cravings. There is association with obesity and many metabolic diseases.
Whole grain grains are very good for health
Whole wheat, or “whole” foods, are always better than processed foods. Cereals are no exception. Whole grains are often rich in fiber and contain several important nutrients and they do not have the same effects on metabolism as refined grains. The truth is that hundreds of studies involve the consumption of whole grain grains with all kinds of beneficial effects on health ( 14 , 15 , 16 ):
- Lifetime : From Harvard research, people who ate the most whole grain grains were 9% less likely to die during the research period and 15% less risk of heart disease ( 17 ).
- Obesity : Those who eat more whole grain grains run less risk of obesity and often have less abdominal fat ( 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 ).
- Diabetes 2 : People who eat more whole grain grains run less risk of developing diabetes 2 ( 22 , 23, 24 ).
- Heart disease : People who eat more whole grain grains are up to 30% less risk of heart disease, the biggest cause of death in the world.
- Colon cancer: One study found a connection between 3 portions of whole grain grains a day and a 17% lower chance of colon cancer. Many other studies came to similar conclusions ( 29 , 30 , 31 ).
Looks impressive, but do not forget that the majority of these surveys were observational. They can not prove that whole grain grains caused the reduced risk of disease, just that people who ate whole grain grains were less likely to get the disease. But on the other hand, there are also controlled studies (real science) that show that whole grain grains can increase saturation and improve many healthcare markets, including markers for inflammation and risk of heart disease ( 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 ).
In summary : Numerous studies show that those who eat most full grain grains run the least risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, or colon cancer and usually live longer. This is supported by data from controlled investigations.
Some cereals contain gluten, which causes problems in many people.
Gluten is a protein found in cereals such as wheat, spelled, rye and barley. Many people are intolerant to gluten. It is about people with celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disease, but also for people with gluten sensitivity ( 39 ). Celiac disease affects 0.7 to 1% of the population and the estimates of gluten sensitivity range between 0.5-13%, most of which range from 5-6% ( 40 , 41). So in total, probably less than 10% of the population is burdened with gluten. This is still the case with millions of people alone in the US and this should not be overlooked. This is really a very heavy disease burden, which is attributed to only a single food (wheat).
Some cereals, especially wheat, are also packed with FODMAPs , a type of carbohydrate that can cause digestive problems in many people ( 42 , 43). But ‘cereals’ are not yet bad because gluten is a problem for many people, because many other whole grain grains are gluten-free. This includes rice, corn, quinoa and oats (oats must be labeled ‘gluten-free’ for celiac patients, because sometimes wheat spreads are in the oats during processing).
In short : Gluten, a protein found in different grains (especially wheat) can cause problems in people who are sensitive to it. However, there are many other cereals that are naturally gluten-free.
Cereals contain many carbohydrates and are therefore probably unsuitable for diabetics.
There are many carbohydrates in cereals. Therefore, they can give problems to people who can not with many carbohydrates in their diet. This is especially true for diabetics who often do good on a low-carb diet ( 44 ). If diabetics eat a lot of carbohydrates, their blood sugar rises sharply, except if they take medicines (such as insulin) to lower it. People with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome or diabetes may therefore avoid better cereals, especially the refined variants.
But not all cereals are the same in this respect; some – like oats – can even be good ( 45 , 46). A small study showed that blood sugar levels decreased in diabetics by eating daily oats and 40% less insulin needed ( 47). Although diabetics can be a good idea to avoid all the cereals because of the carbohydrates, whole grain cereals are at least ‘less bad’ than refined cereals ( 48 ).
In short : Cereals are rich in carbohydrates, so they are unsuitable for people who follow a low-carb diet. Diabetics may not be able to cope with many cereals because of the high amount of carbohydrates.
Cereals contain antinutrients, but you can do something about it
A widely used argument against cereals is that they contain many antinutrients ( 49 ). Antinutrients are substances in food, especially plants that interfere with digestion and absorption of other nutrients. These are substances such as phytic acid, lectins and many others. Phytic acid can bind minerals, preventing them from being absorbed and lectins can cause damage to the intestines ( 50 , 51 ). However, it is important to remember that antioxidants occur not only in cereals. They also include all kinds of healthy foods including nuts, seeds, legumes, tubers and even fruits and vegetables.
If we had to avoid all the nutrition of antinutrients, there would not be much left to eat. But what can help is to reduce the action of antineutrients through traditional methods of preparation such as weeks, germs and fermentation ( 52 , 53 , 54 ). Unfortunately, most cereals that are eaten today are not processed in these ways, so a considerable amount of antioxidants can be present. Nevertheless, the fact that some antinutrients do not mean that it’s bad for you. Each food has its pros and cons, and the benefits of real, unprocessed food usually weigh easily against the harmful effects of antioxidants.
In summary : Like other vegetable foods, cereals often contain antineutrients such as phytic acid, lectins and others. Its action can be reduced by using preparation methods such as weeding, germination and fermentation.
Some cereal-free diets are very beneficial to health
Several studies have been done on diets that do not contain cereals, such as carbohydrate diets and the paleodium. The paleodite avoids cereals in principle, but carbohydrate diets remove them because of the carbohydrates. Many studies on both carbohydrate and palaeododies indicate that these diets can lead to weight loss, reduce fat and improve healthcare performance in several areas of health ( 55 , 56 , 57 ).
In these studies, many things were usually changed at the same time, so you can not say that only avoiding the cereals caused the beneficial effects. But what does show is that a diet does not need cereals to be healthy. On the other hand, many studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet, which contains cereals (mostly whole wheat), also has high health benefits and reduces the risk of heart disease and premature death ( 58 , 59 ). According to these studies, both diets with and without cereals can be good for excellent health.
Thinking about thinking
As usual when it comes to nutrition, everything depends entirely on the individual. If you like cereals and you feel good, there seems to be no good reason to avoid them, as long as you eat whole wheat grains. On the other hand, it’s no harm to health to let them stand, if you do not feel comfortable or if you do not like them. Cereals are not essential and there is no nutrient that you can not get from other foods. Finally, cereals are good for some, but not for others. If you like them, then eat them. If you do not like it or if you do not feel comfortable, leave them alone. It’s so simple it is translated (with permission ).