Dr. Mary Clifton Wendt, author of the best-selling book, Waist Away, co-author of the book Get Waisted: 100 Addictively Delicious Plant-Based Entrees, and co-founder of the healthy weight loss program Get Waisted talks to us about the benefits of whole grains and why they are such an important part of a healthy diet.


The Dish on Grains

During high school and college, I worked as a hostess at the finest restaurant in my little town in Michigan. When I wasn’t seating people and arranging the schedule, I was in charge of setting up the cheese table, cutting a slice of cheese in anticipation of someone coming and taking a piece after their trip to our salad bar. You can imagine that I ate many slices of cheese as I circled the table during the dinner hour. After the guests left and everything was cleaned up, all of the staff could have soup, salad or a cheeseburger. Every night, after work, I ate a cheeseburger. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I suffered from severe menstrual cramps and also had recurrent kidney stones during this time in my life.

I stood next to the chef one night after work, watching my hamburger sizzle on her grill, and listening to her complain about barley. She particularly was aggravated with barley added to soups. “What good is it anyway? Barley is just a cheap filler.” I thought exactly the same thing at the time. I ate my meat out of my Asian takeout and threw out the veggies and rice.

How wrong we both turned out to be.

Grains remain the staff of life, the basis of every major successful civilization’s growth and prosperity. They are nourishing and filling.

At the University of Minnesota, epidemiologist David R. Jacobs has found that those who ate whole-grain products daily had about a 15 percent to 25 percent reduction in death from all causes, including heart disease and cancer (The Washington Post: 8-4-99). This finding is in keeping with guidelines by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, who would all like to see an increased consumption of whole-grain foods to at least three servings per day.

Most Americans fall short of those goals, with only 7 percent eating three or more whole-grain foods daily, according to the latest USDA consumption figures. Choosing a variety of grains sounds complex in a world full of processed wheat. Whole-grain foods contain higher amounts of fiber. But research suggests that it’s the whole grain itself that delivers abundant amounts of antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals that appear to act together to provide protective effects.

90 percent of the world’s food supply comes from approximately 17 plant species. The top 10 are: wheat, maize, rice, barley, soybean, cane sugar, sorghum, potato, oats, and cassava. Without these plants there is no way that the world could support the existing 6 billion people and the anticipated 12 to 15 billion people expected during the next century. If agriculture gave us anything, it was an easily grown mass diet that was calorically dense that could be stored, shipped, and processed in hundreds of different ways.

Cereal grains are good sources of phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, fiber and iron. However, the high phytate content of whole grain cereals forms insoluble complexes with calcium, and other minerals, decreasing their absorption. There is a theoretical possibility that people consuming a diet high in grains are at risk for mineral deficiencies. The content of iron, calcium and other minerals in whole grains is overly abundant, and the phytate levels vary in different grains. This high content of minerals in grains makes up for the insoluble complexes that form, so that people consuming grains still get more vitamins and minerals in their diet than people that avoid grains.

The absorption of manganese, chromium, and selenium does not seem impaired. Zinc absorption is also limited by the phytates in grain, but an overabundance of zinc is available in beans and nuts. The bioavailability of zinc from meat is four times higher than that from cereals, but the content of zinc in beans and nuts is sufficient to prevent deficiency in healthy eaters.

Cereal grains are low in fats, with a ratio of unhealthy omega-6 fats to healthy 0mega-3 fats of 10:1 in most grains. An average American diet is 25, so whole grains contribute to healthy fat ratios. Eating your grains with beans or other vegetables further enhances the healthy fats in the meal.

Grains are certainly more inflammatory than vegetables and fruit, but they are far less inflammatory than meats and dairy. As a source of concentrated calories in your diet, grains are a great addition to beans and nuts. The best way to bring all the goodness of grains is to choose a variety of whole grains and eat them daily.


Dr. Mary (Clifton) Wendt, M.D. has been an Internal Medicine doctor for almost twenty years. She specializes in weight loss, osteoporosis and menopause, disease prevention, management, and reversal. She regularly speaks at health and inspirational seminars, medical and heath conferences, corporate wellness events, universities, and for private groups. Dr. Mary is the author of the best-selling book, Waist Away, co-author of the book Get Waisted: 100 Addictively Delicious Plant-Based Entrees, and co-founder of the healthy weight loss program Get Waisted. Dr. Mary loves all grains, but her favorite is quinoa!