Whole wheat has gotten the short end of the grain for the last decade or so in diet culture.
Paleo, Keto, Atkins – they all recommend ditching the grains to lose weight and calm an irritated digestive system. The prevalence of celiac disease and other gluten intolerances has birthed the cauliflower-as-pizza-crust movement – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that!
But somewhere along the way, we forgot that grains are good for you… and good for your gut.
Here’s where we got lost: whole wheat grain is a different beast than refined white flour.
The reason we differentiate between “whole grain” and “refined grain” is that refined grains contain only one part of the original three components in grains – the endosperm.
Whole grains maintain their integrity by retaining each of the three parts of the original grain: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
What we end up eating most of the time is the endosperm, the inside layer. But we’re missing out on the outer layer of the grain (bran) and the core of the grain (germ). By separating the two outer layers from the inside layer, you can extend the shelf-life of grains and also achieve a desired evenness of texture in the food you ultimately cook with – the refined grain flour.
But… locked in the outer layers are vitamins E and B, phytochemicals that have been linked to preventing cancer development, healthy fats, and antioxidants.
It’s clear that not all of your grocery store grains are created equally.
What’s also become clear is that your gut bacteria benefits from the wealth of nutrients present in the combination of all three parts of the original wheat grain.
What Grains Do for your Gut
Grains are fibrous – we all know that. What you might not know is that humans can’t digest fiber because we lack the natural enzymes required to process it.
So as the body absorbs the other nutrients in grains, the fiber continues its journey through the digestive tract and pushing waste out with it, helping keep us regular.
When fiber arrives at the large intestine, the gut microbes actually ferment it which turns fiber into short-chain fatty acids – specifically butyrate, acetate, and propionate.
Now, several things can happen at this point. Digestive tract lining cells can absorb the butyrate and use it as fuel, or the SCFAs are distributed as needed throughout the body via the bloodstream.
It’s important that intestinal cells receive this energy source. We want strong and powerful digestive cells because they maintain the integrity of the gut lining and help to prevent disorders like IBS, leaky gut, diverticulitis, and any other conditions involving permeated intestines.
A strong and complete intestinal lining keeps bad guys out, and good guys in, helping you avoid gut inflammation.
And specific grains have been shown to have specific effects on gut microbes.
Whole Grain Oats
Studies revealed that eating whole grain oat flour affected the gut’s microbial population.
Consuming more of this flour led to an increase in Lactobacillaceae, which is a beneficial gut bacteria responsible for producing lactic acid, which attacks harmful bacteria in the gut and prevents their population from growing.
While we’re all cooking from home, snagging whole grain oats at the grocery store can help you stay regular and regulated.
This is an ideal choice for those who are sensitive to gluten, since it’s naturally gluten-free.
It’s also high in fiber and niacin, a B vitamin, shown to improve gut health in healthy humans.
In fact, it’s used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to prevent slow digestion and reduce inflammation.
Including buckwheat in your diet can increase the Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium spp, Bifidobacterium lactis presence in your gut – all helpful and healthy gut bacteria.
Steam it, boil it, bake it – see if you notice a difference in your body after introducing it!
Maize Flour (Corn meal)
This isn’t your average American corn-enriched product. The Western diet is so full of processed corn, we’ve been taught to mistrust it – and for good reason.
But corn in its natural form, ground into powder, is actually good for you! For your gut, specifically.
Eating corn meal or corn cereal can increase the healthy population of Bifidobacteria in the gut. Natural sprouted corn contains plenty of fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and resistant starch (which is a prebiotic and supports the function and growth of healthy gut bacteria.)
Corn meal, corn starch, and corn flour can all be used to reap these benefits!
But the list hardly ends there.
Brown rice and barley can also increase the presence of Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillae, Roseburia, and Eubacterium rectale.
Whole grain pasta and bread can lower inflammation signals and lower food intake without changing the bacterial composition of your gut.
Keep this in mind while you’re shopping: whole grain variety is the name of the game, especially when you’re introducing brand-new whole grain cultures, like millet, bulgur, quinoa, or sorghum. New gut bacteria is wonderful for a balanced profile!