This Week’s Health Tip is: Eat Your Whole Grains!
Now I know some of you might be thinking, “I eat whole grains, it says so on my cereal box or on the package of bread I just bought today”. Well, I hate to burst your whole grain bubble, but unless you can actually see the entire grain in your bowl of cereal, or it’s indicated “whole” in the list of ingredients, you’re not eating whole grains, you’re eating a big bowl of “fool” grains.
The Scoop on Whole Grains
Compared to highly processed grains, whole and cracked grains digest slowly, preventing blood sugar spikes which contribute to inflammation, feeling tired, and ultimately raising your blood glucose levels. So women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant, or those with diabetes it’s best to stay away from processed grains.
Whole grains are packed with nutrients including protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium). A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer. Due to their fiber contents, diets that consist of whole grains can also improve bowel health by helping to maintain regular bowel movements and promote growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.
But how do you know if you’re getting whole grains or fool grains in your diet? Virtually every one in the bread and cereal aisle promotes whole-grain goodness, but not all of them are actually whole-grain. GASP! Terms like “multigrain,” “100% wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “organic,” “pumpernickel,” and “bran,” may sound healthy, but they don’t actually indicate it the product is a whole grain or not. Yep, that’s marketing trickery at its finest.
Here’s a full proof way of knowing if you’re eating a whole grain or not: if you can see it in its entirety, or if it has been cracked into a few pieces then it’s a whole grain. A whole grain is something that you need to chew or do work to get into you. Take our buckwheat and millet granolas, for example, those are whole grain.
Got it? Good.
According to Andrew Weil, MD, any time a whole grain is ground up (or pulverized) into a super fine powder, whether or not the entire grain is present, you have converted the starch into a substance with an infinite amount of surface area that enzymes can convert almost immediately into blood sugar. When the grain is whole and or slightly cracked, the starch is compacted and is enclosed by a fibrous husk. It’ll take a long time for digestive enzymes to get into that starch and convert it into sugar that can be absorbed and effect blood sugar. This is super important to note for people with diabetes.
If you can crush a piece of bread, or even an entire loaf, up into the size of a small marble, that’s not the kind of bread you want to eat.
However, if you are wanting to buy sandwich bread for the family, in order to truly understand what a whole grain is, we may need to take a look at the beautiful anatomy of a whole grain.
As you can see the wheat kernel has a few key parts: bran, germ and endosperm.
The germ contributes some of the most valuable nutrients to the flour, including much of its protein, folic acid, and other B vitamins, although once the germ is crushed during the milling process it releases a nutrient rich oil that gives the flour a very short shelf life. So in the late 1800s rollers were developed for grinding grain, which made it possible to remove the germ and then grind the remaining endosperm, which, according to Michael Pollen, is basically a “big packet of starch and protein.” i.e high calories and low nutrients, also known as white bread. YIKES!
Oh, and don’t be fooled by the “enriched” wheat breads ether. Those are just food scientists trying to make up for what they took out of nature by adding vitamins and minerals. But in the end you’re still just eating a bag of ground up endosperm that your body will ultimately digest as sugar.
The moral of this story is: No one packs nutrients like mother nature, so don’t mess with her.
Here’s a list of approved whole grains for you to try. *I marked the naturally Gluten-Free ones for your reference:
- Whole-grain corn *GF
- Whole oats/oatmeal *GF if labeled
- Brown rice *GF
- Whole rye
- Whole-grain barley
- Wild rice *GF
- Buckwheat *GF
- Bulgur (cracked wheat)
- Millet *GF
- Quinoa *GF
- Sorghum *GF
- 100% whole wheat flour (NOTE: the word “whole” is key)
So, next time you go to the grocery store, try picking up a new whole grain for you to take home and experiment with. Serve alongside your favorite veggies and you’ve got yourself a complete, nutrient dense meal.
Already eating whole grains? What’s your favorite and how do you like to prepare it?
Sources: Andrew Weil, WebMD, Michael Pollan