• Katie Floyd

The Connection Between Whole Grains and Mood

We all experience occasional stress. But sometimes stress can become chronic, which can negatively affect our health (1). There are many ways to improve our stress levels. Taking walks, meditation, breathing exercises, listening to relaxing music, and putting away our phones are just some examples of ways to help reduce stress (2). More research is showing the positive connection between eating whole grains and our overall mood, including our stress levels (3).

Diets high in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts have been shown to help reduce mood swings, anxiety, and depression. That’s because many whole grains are naturally rich in an amino acid called tryptophan, which helps the body produce serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is the “feel-good hormone.” It improves our moods and relaxes the brain and body. Melatonin helps us establish and maintain healthy sleep cycles (4).

In addition to helping our bodies produce serotonin and melatonin, whole grains have even more health benefits. Eating whole grains can also help lower total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels. Furthermore, whole grains may help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes (5). Whole grains break down much more slowly during digestion, which helps keep blood sugar levels lower (6).

Emerging evidence has shown a possible connection between our gut health and mood. The trillions of microorganisms living in our gastrointestinal tract are referred to as our ‘gut microbiome.’ Many whole grains are high in resistant starch – a type of dietary fiber – that feeds the good bacteria in our gut, producing short-chain fatty acids that may play a role in regulating our mood (3).

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020) recommends eating at least 6 ounces of grain foods daily and getting at least half of that grain intake from 100% whole grains. However, an increasing amount of research is showing that most of that grain intake should come from whole grains, rather than refined grains (Harvard). Refined grains go through a milling process that removes two parts of the grain kernel – the bran and germ – leaving only the endosperm. Examples of refined grains are white flour, corn grits, white bread, and white rice (7).

Unprocessed whole grains contain all three parts of the grain kernel – the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran and the germ contain important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, like B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, healthy fats, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Some examples of unprocessed whole grains include barley, brown rice, quinoa, and sorghum (5).

Sorghum is not as popular as some of the other unprocessed whole grains, although it has been a staple in some diets for centuries and is the fifth most produced cereal crop in the world. It contains a variety of nutrients including B vitamins, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Sorghum is also high in antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic acids, and tannins (8). In addition, sorghum contains a number of essential amino acids including leucine, lysine, threonine, and tryptophan (9).

Over the years, researchers have investigated Sorghum’s potential health benefits. Some of the studied health benefits include cancer growth inhibition, blood glucose health, management of healthy cholesterol, and its consumption as a grain source safe for people with Celiac disease (10). The bioactive compounds in sorghum (proanthocyanidins, 3-deoxyanthocyanidins, and flavones) are what researchers believe account for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Sorghum has also been studied for its gut health benefits. Sorghum is a healthy grain option because of is classification as an unprocessed whole grain. It is also classified as a resistant starch due to its low digestibility of starch, making it an even more attractive health food option (11).

Resistant starch functions like soluble, fermentable fiber, traveling through the stomach and small intestine undigested and eventually reaching the colon where it can feed the good (or “friendly) gut bacteria. This is so important because fermentable fibers and resistant starches feed 90% of our cells (12). This also reiterates the fact that whole grains high in resistant starch, like sorghum, feed our friendly gut bacteria, producing short-chain fatty acids that may play a role in regulating our mood (3).

Whole grains, like sorghum, contain a variety of nutrients and possess numerous studied health benefits, like helping lower total cholesterol and insulin levels, as well as feeding our good gut bacteria. Research has also shown evidence linking whole grain diets and reduced mood swings, anxiety, and depression. So, next time you’re looking for a nutritious grain option, give sorghum a try.


(1) Healthy Lifestyle: Stress Management. (April 2021). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

(2) 6 research-backed ways to de-stress in 5 minutes. (April 11, 2018). Today. https://www.today.com/health/how-deal-stress-daily-basis-t126882

(3) Eat well to feel well: how whole grains and legumes can improve your mood. (April 2021). Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. https://www.glnc.org.au/resources/hot-topics/eat-well-to-feel-well-how-whole-grains-and-legumes-can-improve-your-mood/

(4) Whole Grains: Good Mood Food! (June 18, 2014). Oldways Whole Grains Council. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/blog/2014/06/whole-grains-good-mood-food

(5) Whole Grains. (April 2021). Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/

(6) Don’t give up on grains. (October 2019). Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/donamprsquot-give-up-on-grains

(7) Grains: What foods are in the Grains Group? (April 2021). U.S. Department of Agriculture: My Plate. https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/grains

(8) What Is Sorghum? A Unique Grain Reviewed. (November 26, 2019). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sorghum

(9) Serna-Saldivar, S., Espinosa-Ramírez, J. (2019). Grain Structure and Grain Chemical Composition. In Sorghum and Millets (Second Edition). (pp. 85-129). https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-811527-5.00005-8

(10) Health Benefits of Sorghum. (April 2021). Oldways Whole Grains Council. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whole-grains-101-orphan-pages-found/health-benefits-sorghum

(11) Pelpolage, S., Nagata, R., Fukuma, N., Shimada, K., Han, K., Hamamoto, T., Hoshizawa, M., Fukushima, M. (2019). In Vivo Colonic Fermentation of Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L.): Important Correlations Observed among the Physiological Parameters of Cecum, Liver, Adipose Tissue and Fasting Serum Lipid Profile. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 65, 222-227. https://doi.org/10.3177/jnsv.65.S222

(12) Resistant Starch 101 – Everything You Need to Know. (July 3, 2018). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/resistant-starch-101

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