Image by Jayne and D
I’ve talked a whole lot about grains on here — going grain-free, eating grains again, sprouting them, soaking them, and so on. I haven’t even gotten down to the nitty-gritty, though: are grains good or bad? What do you do with them if they’re good…and why? Today we’ll look at the first part of that question. Next week we’ll talk more indepth.
The USDA Food Pyramid
Most of us grew up thinking grains were good. After all, the USDA food pyramid — now a “plate” — recommends that we eat 6 to 11 servings per day. Each serving is about 1 slice of bread of 1/2 cup of cereal or pasta. The recommended amount of carbs per day is around 300g. That’s…a lot.
It’s also true that, despite more recent recommendations to get the majority of your grains from whole-grain sources, most people get the majority of theirs from white sources. Sources like:
- Corn (yes, it’s a grain)
Most meals are based around grains. Breakfast foods (bread, pancakes, biscuits, muffins), lunch foods (sandwichs), dinner foods (pastas, sandwiches, pizza). It’s rare to find a meal that isn’t grain-dependent or served with a grain (like dinner rolls). The vast majority is white flour. Even “whole wheat” products that are commercial are still largely made from white flour, with a small amount of whole grain wheat. The rule is often no more than 1 part wheat to 2 parts white, lest the bread not rise as well.
Everyone knows this isn’t healthy — eating a large amount of white flour products. Nobody thinks it’s a good idea. Yet, it’s so ingrained in people that eating grains is good, and most of what’s available is white, so…that’s what they eat. White flour is generally nutritionless, and, in the vast majority of cases, not even worth eating.
Whole Grains are Better?
This has been promoted for several years now — “Eat whole grains for your health!” There are claims all over different foods that eating this whole grain or that whole grain improves heart health or improves overall health or whatever.
It’s true — to a point.
Regular whole grains are better for you than white grains. White flour is the endosperm of the grain, which has been stripped of its bran and germ. The majority of the nutrients are in the bran and germ. The endosperm is primarily starch. It spikes the blood sugar because it is absorbed rapidly, and heavy consumption over time can lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.
When doctors realized this several years ago, they began to research and compare whole grain products to their white counterparts. And they found that in comparison, the whole grain products were healthier. They did not study the effects of reducing or eliminating grains on health at all. Therefore, they’re leaving out a crucial part of this study when they state, “Whole grains are good for you!” It’s a “Yes, BUT” situation.
Why Are Grains ‘Not So Good?’
It’s important to understand that even whole grains are carbohydrates, and all carbs break down to sugar (glucose). Eating a large amount of grains can spike your blood sugar. Consuming grains along with plenty of fat and protein reduces this effect, because these slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Fat also aids the absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E, and K.
When half of your diet comes from grains, especially if you are following current recommendations and limiting your fat, your blood sugar spikes and drops throughout the day. Over time, this can affect other hormones in your body, including your thyroid and adrenals (cortisol is heavily affected by insulin). You may be on the road to diabetes, or suffer from attacks of hypoglycemia.
For this reason it is wise to be cautious about grain consumption. Ideally all grains consumed will be soaked or sprouted or soured (more on this next week — we’ve noted some additional interesting results as we’ve experimented with preparing and not preparing the grains), consumed with plenty of fat and protein, and will be consumed in moderation.
Example: Having a slice of toast with lots of butter or nut butter and a scrambled egg is fine for breakfast; eating dry toast (even whole grain) is not. Cooking rice in stock with butter and serving it alongside baked chicken (with the bone in and skin on) is fine; cooking rice in water and serving it with skinless, boneless chicken with the fat trimmed off is not.
Why Not Just Grain-Free?
This has become the popular move — for us, too. And in the short-term it can be a very good thing, as a healing diet. But it’s not a good idea in the long run.
A general rule of thumb: Any diet which completely removes one or more food groups permanently is not a healthy diet in the long run. (Yes…this includes vegan diets, grain-free, vegetarian, etc.)
Here’s the thing. Your body cannot use vitamin D without magnesium (vitamin Dis a pre-hormone that’s responsible for many aspects of health). In fact, magnesium deficiency is widespread and it’s needed for many important functions in the body. If you follow Cheeseslave, you may have noticed that she’d been on GAPS to try to fix some hormonal issues she was having — without success. Once she discovered magnesium deficiency was the key, everything changed.
Grains are a primary source of magnesium.
So, yes, grains are actually needed, in moderation. Nuts are high in magnesium, too, and so is chocolate, but these don’t present an adequate solution. Most people won’t eat enough nuts or chocolate to get what they need, and chocolate has theobromin (a caffeine-like chemical that some people are sensitive to), making it a less-ideal solution. (Read: is chocolate good or bad for you?) If you choose nuts, make sure they are properly prepared!
Soaking, Sprouting, and Souring?
We’ll talk about this more indepth next week, but there’s a lot of talk about sprouted flour, and soaked doughs. I first heard of this myself over two years ago and thought, “Gee, why would you bother?” I found out through unfortunate experience.
Traditional cultures prepare their grains by soaking them (the flour, in an acidic medium), sprouting them (allowing the grains to grow tiny sprouts, then drying them), and souring them (think a sourdough starter). Doing so reduces the phytic acid that protects the grain from “damage” (remember that grains are seeds, intended to produce new plants).
Phytic acid can bind up nutrients, including magnesium, inside your body. This can cause deficiency if you eat a lot of grains.
We have noted that if I eat improperly prepared grains, it bothers Jacob. He becomes fussy and gassy and doesn’t sleep well. Yet if the grains are properly prepared, we don’t have any problems. Clearly this is causing gut damage to me and allowing partially digested bits of grain to leak through and get into my milk, and into him. This isn’t good for my health or his!
Next week we’ll look at how to prepare grains and more on the “why.”