“Eat whole grains. Don’t eat gluten. Porridge is healthy. Bread isn’t healthy”.
The mixed messages when it comes to grains has left us confused about which grains are actually good for us.
The fact that grains are and can be found everywhere means that we eat a huge amount of them however why is this an issue?
One argument is that eating grains causes a problem with digestion and absorption of nutrients, sparking inflammatory effects in the body. The biggest reason for this is that many of the grains found in a lot of products are highly refined which means their nutritional benefits are reduce. Plus, in these mass-produced crops, there’s often the issue of ingesting pesticide sprays, which has negative health associations. The other argument is that all grains, gluten-free or not, contain substances called ‘anti-nutrients’ that can create damage to the gut lining and have a knock on effect on the rest of the body. While there’s some truth in all of these considerations, they don’t present the full picture, not is it the case that everyone will react to foods in the same way.
The issue lies in how were are treating our grains in the first place. Sprouting, soaking and fermenting were the traditional ways our ancestors ate their grains and a staple like bread was made with care and minimal ingredients.
To use an organic ancient grain, such as gamut, spelt or rye, for a loaf that contains just one or two additional ingredients, or adding wild rice to a homemade soup, isn’t comparable to buying wholly refined ready made food. What’s more, if we make (or buy things that are made) with care, the traditional preparation techniques negate most of these ‘anti-nutrient’ side effects. Sourdough is an obvious example and studies demonstrate that even those with a gluten sensitivity don’t show the same inflammatory markets when they eat it.
Stipulation and limitations aside, good grains offer a wealth of nutritional value, including plenty of B vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc and iron.
Being more mindful and taking time to sprout, soak or ferment means we are all free to enjoy grains as much as we would any other food…..in moderation.
Listed below are my top 10 list of grains and their benefits for your future use:
This one is pretty easy, as long as you don’t let food marketers trick you. It can be readily found in bread and pasta products, but make sure the label says “100% whole wheat.” Terms like “multigrain” and “wheat” don’t cut it. When you’re shopping for any whole-grain product, look at the ingredients and make sure the whole grain is at or near the top of the list. Each serving should contain at least 2 or 3 grams of fiber.
Oats are particularly rich in avenanthramide, an antioxidant that protects the heart. When you’re shopping for this whole grain, whether you see the word “whole” or not doesn’t matter the way it does with wheat products. Oats in the ingredients list mean the product is made from whole oats.
But, if you are buying something like instant oatmeal, avoid those that contain high-fructose corn syrup. We suggest sticking to the good old-fashioned unsweetened kind and simply mix in your own sweetness from natural fruits or maple syrup.
When you choose white rice over brown, around 75% of its nutrients — including nearly all the antioxidants, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins contained in the healthy bran and germ — are left on the milling-room floor. Always opt for brown rice which includes brown aromatic varieties like basmati and jasmine. Get even more exotic with red and black rice, both of which are considered whole grains and are high in antioxidants. Though technically a grass, wild rice is also considered a whole grain and is rich in B vitamins, such as niacin and folate.
According to nutritional research from the nonprofit The Organic Center, rye has more nutrients per 100-calorie serving than any other whole grain. It has four times more fiber than standard whole wheat and provides you with nearly 50% of your daily recommended amount of iron. The problem is, most rye and pumpernickel bread in grocery stores is made with refined flours. Be persistent and look for “whole rye” topping the ingredients list to get the healthy benefits.
This Arabic grain is a low-carb form of ancient wheat that has up to four times more fiber than brown rice. Freekeh kernels are harvested while they’re young and then roasted. They contain more vitamins and minerals, such as immune-boosting selenium, than other grains. Once in your stomach, freekeh acts as a prebiotic, stimulating the growth of healthy bacteria that aid digestion. (This is different than a probiotic which is a beneficial live bacteria you consume). Look for it in Middle Eastern markets and natural health food stores and of course can now be found on Amazon.
Whole Grain Barley
People who ate a half-cup of whole barley regularly during a five-week period (according to a USDA study) saw their cholesterol levels drop by nearly 10% compared to those who went without. Try adding raisins or dried apricots to quick-cooking barley and serving it as a side dish. Just make sure it is a whole grain barley and not “pearled,” which means the bran and germ have been removed.
Buckwheat (my favourite)
Many people living with celiac disease can tolerate this whole grain, along with quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum. And it’s one of the best grain-based sources of magnesium, a wonder mineral that does everything from ease PMS symptoms to improve nerve functioning; and manganese, which boosts brain power. And thank goodness for that, because who doesn’t enjoy a good buckwheat pancake from time to time?
For all practical purposes, bulgur is considered a whole grain, even though up to 5% of its bran may be removed during processing. It’s so good for you, though, we’re putting it on the list. The grain is a great source of iron and magnesium. The fiber and protein powerhouse (a cup contains nearly 75% of the dietary fiber you need for the day, and 25% of the protein you should get) can be used in salads or tossed in soups. Plus it cooks in only a few minutes.
Though it’s technically a seed and not a grain, this ancient power food is packed with more protein than any other grain (great for vegetarians and vegans), and each uncooked cup of the stuff (about three servings) has 522 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. Your family will likely enjoy its light, nutty flavor for a change of pace at the dinner table. And it keeps well, so makes an easy make-ahead lunch to pack to work or school.
Whole Wheat Couscous
Most of the couscous you see is a form of pasta made from refined wheat flour. So when you’re eyeing the aisle for the healthiest couscous pick, look for the whole-wheat kind, most easily found in natural health food stores. Skipping the refined version and going with the whole-grain type will net you 5 additional grams of fiber per serving.