Whole Grains: How much healthier are they?

One of the most difficult changes for people to make when starting in on a Paleo/Primal lifestyle is the elimination of grains from their diet.  Most people will listen politely when I explain that grains contain anti-nutrients and gut-inflammatory agents that really mess with our digestive systems.  They may even agree that they should eat more fruits and veggies.  But almost without fail, this question soon follows: “But what about the essential nutrients in whole grains?  Where will I get those if I stop eating bread/pasta/cereal/etc.?”  Well, let’s take a look and see:  what nutrients do you get from whole grains?  Is it even that much healthier than white bread?  And when compared to fruits and veggies, how do whole grains stack up nutritionally?

Nutrients in Whole Wheat

Many whole-bread packages sport claims of healthy amount of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.  For example, look at this Brownberry Whole Wheat loaf.

Brownberry Whole Grains

From the description, the major benefits seem to include dietary fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. Plugging this product into Calorie Count, we get the following results.

Brownberry Wheat Stats

Also included in the details:

Dietary fiber: 3.0 g (12%)

Iron: 0.68 mg (4%)

B vitamins: 0.059 mg

Vitamin E:  0.14 mg

Magnesium: 23 mg

Phosphorous: 57 mg

Potassium: 69 mg

These number may seem impressive, but without anything to compare it to, how do we know for sure? So next, let’s look at the Nutrition we can find in plain-old white bread.

Whole Wheat vs. White Bread

White Bread Stats

Red marks = worse than wheat bread.

Blue marks = better than wheat bread.

Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g (2%)

Iron: 0.94 mg (5%)

B vitamins: 0.021 mg

Vitamin E: 0.06 mg

Magnesium: 6 mg

Phosphorous: 25 mg

Potassium: 25 mg

So based on these stats, it seems clear that wheat-bread has more nutrients than white. However, even though it has more protein and nutrients, most of these come from the bran (part of the whole wheat that hasn’t been polished away, unlike white bread) – which also has the highest concentration of anti-nutrients and gut-inflammatory agents that actually PREVENT us from absorbing the nutrients we think we’re eating.

Unfortunately, trying to judge what we are “absorbing” over what we are “eating” is too abstract to inspire people to make a drastic change in their lives.  If you were to go on just the stats then, it looks like wheat bread is better.  However, how does wheat bread stack up against one of my favorite veggies:  broccoli.

Whole Wheat vs. Broccoli

In order to get a similar amount of carbohydrate, you would need to eat upwards of 2 cups of broccoli per one slice of bread.  Here’s how the nutrients break down.

Broccoli Stats

Red marks = worse than wheat bread.

Blue marks = better than wheat bread.

Dietary Fiber: 4.6 g (18%)

Iron: 1.3 mg (8%)

B Vitamins: 0.3 mg

Vitamin E: 1.4 mg

Magnesium: 36 mg

Phosphorous: 116 mg

Potassium: 556 mg

Bottom line:  Broccoli DESTROYS whole-wheat at its own game – the very nutrients that health-food companies promote on their products.  Not only that, but Broccoli actually has:

  • Less calories
  • Less fat
  • Less sodium
  • More protein
  • More vitamin A (22% daily value)
  • More vitamin C (262% daily value)
  • PLUS:  folate, manganese, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Real Food Rules

So, by subbing fruits and veggies for grains, not only are you avoiding all of those nasty anti-nutrients and gut-inflammatory agents, you are providing yourself with more of the “essential nutrients” you need to thrive.  Don’t let yourself be fooled by health-food company advertisements – REAL food doesn’t need a label.  (Probably because it doesn’t want to embarrass the other, packaged foods.)

If you need some tips on how to grocery shop, check out this post.  You CAN do this, you CAN make this change.  And it WILL help.

Good luck, and stay healthy everybody.