Whole grains are typically more healthful than refined white grains because they tend to retain more of the nutrients from the grain itself, while white grain loses a lot of its nutrients during processing. Whole grain nutrients include fiber and iron, B vitamins, protein, and a small amount of calcium. Exact nutrients vary depending on the type of whole grain. Some manufacturers also add extra nutrients into the product during processing.
Fiber is one of the most important whole grain nutrients, because research indicates that most people do not get enough in their diet. Fiber cannot be digested by the body, but it still plays a very important role in keeping it healthy. In the bowels, fiber adds bulk to the stools, which allows them to pass more easily through the colon. Studies indicate that it also plays a role in keeping the heart healthy by lowering cholesterol. Those who are trying to lose weight may benefit from an increased fiber intake because it helps them feel full quicker and longer.
Another important whole grain nutrient is iron. Iron is important to the body because it plays a significant role in delivering oxygen and regenerating cells within the body. This whole grain nutrient is especially important to those who do not get their iron from meat sources. On its own, whole grains are not a major source of iron, but many manufacturers of whole grain products fortify their foods with extra iron. A lack of this nutrient can cause numerous symptoms, ranging from fatigue to difficulty breathing, depending on the severity of the deficit.
There are several different types of B vitamins, including thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin. Like iron, these whole grain nutrients are naturally present in small amounts, but are often added to bread, cereal, and other whole grain foods during processing. The B vitamins each play important roles in keeping the body healthy. For example, thiamine is important to brain and nerve cells, while niacin helps the body metabolize fats and carbohydrates. A lack of B vitamins in the diet can cause many different problems, ranging from cracked lips to rashes to seizures.
Other whole grain nutrients include protein and small amounts of calcium. The protein found in whole grains is not complete, meaning it does not contain all the amino acids that make up a complete protein. Although whole grains do not contain a significant amount of calcium, even a small amount can be beneficial to those who cannot get their calcium from dairy sources.