Cereals, also known as grains and seeds of certain species of grasses intended for human and animal consumption. Cereals account for around 60% of food energy intake in the world and 90% in developing countries. This is because cereals contain high amounts of carbohydrates (up to 70%) and proteins (8 to 15%) with relatively low-fat content (around 1%).
Cereals contain gluten
The three main types of cereal that can be potentially harmful to those with coeliac disease are wheat, rye and barley. Oats do not contain gluten but may be contaminated by other cereals during cultivation or storage. Even if oats themselves do not contain gluten they are often grown in fields that previously grew wheat, rye, barley or spelt. Therefore, it is still currently unknown if oats can be consumed by coeliacs in a gluten-free diet.
Cereals safe for coeliacs
Cereals such as rice, corn and buckwheat do not contain gluten and are appropriate to the diet of coeliacs. The same applies to quinoa, millet or amaranth that have been demonstrated to be free from contamination with other cereals containing gluten.
The benefits of cereals
The most common cereals are rice, corn and buckwheat. Cereals are one of the main sources of carbohydrates in the world. They provide energy mainly in the form of starch for all organisms. Cereals also have a dietary fibre content that is beneficial to health, they contain many minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium or phosphorus and vitamins especially B1 or B2 that contribute to food security. Furthermore, some cereal varieties are rich in important components that include anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acids omega 6 (n6) and antioxidants coming from their germ fraction proteins. Other cereals are good sources of resistant starches with thermogenic properties whose consumption has been associated with increased satiety levels and weight loss.
Cereals such as rice, corn and buckwheat are usually consumed in a more refined form of cereal-based products. In this sense, the refining process reduces the nutritional quality of cereals by removing protein, vitamins and minerals from its core to maintain only starches or sugars. There is a clear trend towards increased consumption of processed food with low nutritional value that contributes to obesity and malnutrition, especially among children. In addition, it has been demonstrated that the processing of some edible seeds modifies their chemical structure affecting their bioavailability from our bodies which can increase or decrease their potential health effects depending on whether they reduce or enhance inflammation. It is therefore essential to consider that regardless of how cereals are consumed they contain important components and bioactive compounds with potential anti-inflammatory benefits.
Cereals contain more resistant starch
Cereals such as rice, corn and buckwheat are good sources of resistant starch. The human colonic microbiota is responsible for the degradation of starches into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFAs such as butyrate promote intestinal health through their action on gene expression which stimulates the cellular growth and proliferation needed to maintain a healthy mucosa layer that helps fight against pathogens or toxins that enter our bodies through food consumption. It has been demonstrated that some cereal varieties have a lower glycemic index than others because they release glucose gradually and slowly in our small intestine. When we consume foods with low GI we promote the production of SCFAs that can be easily absorbed in our colon helping to improve health.