A friend approached me the other day with surprising news: " Whole grains are actually bad for you!" What?!
Being a huge proponent of whole grains and a whole foods-based diet, I was puzzled. What sort of misinformation is being spread out there?
More and more, people are hearing about problems with wheat, specifically gluten, hence the popularity of the gluten-free diet. As a nation, we eat a lot of wheat, somewhere around 20 percent of our diet. Some people have serious allergic reactions, while others have sensitivities and minor discomforts from consuming gluten.
Our prehistoric ancestors did not consume much in the way of grains, as they were hunters and gatherers, so one could argue our bodies aren't made to digest grains.
As time passed, pre-industrialized people soaked and fermented their grains before cooking, making it more digestible. Many cultures around the world have held on to that knowledge, using it to this day; in India with their rice, Mexico with their corn, and in America, with our sourdough. Your grandma may even remember early oatmeal boxes with directions to soak it overnight.
Soaking grains is a good idea. Grains contain phytic acid in their outer bran layer, and when consumed, it can combine with calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, blocking their absorption into the body. Soaking grains allow enzymes to break down and neutralize the phytic acid, as well as increase Vitamin B values.
A high-gluten diet may be a strain on the digestion system, so it is a good idea to vary the grains in the diet, making sure to include ones without gluten, like buckwheat, rice, millet, quinoa and amaranth. A typical weekly menu in our house includes: rolled oats or buckwheat pancakes for breakfast, quinoa salad, wheat or spelt bread for lunch, brown rice, corn polenta or tortillas and pasta for dinner. Just like we mix up what proteins or vegetables we have with our meals, we should also change up our grains.
What is the alternative? You can avoid whole grains and eat only refined grains like white flour and white rice, but they are merely starch that rapidly turns to sugar in the body, devoid of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Some people may choose to omit grains from their diet altogether, getting all their dietary needs from fruits and vegetables. That can be a good option for some people, but it takes a huge dedication and focus, and many people aren't getting enough vegetables in their diet as it is.
Just like with any new research study, fad diet, or nutrition hype, I suggest we all do our homework before jumping on board.
Whole grains are not evil and something to be afraid of. We should eat everything in moderation and get our nutrition from a variety of sources.
For those people who have serious allergies or intolerance to gluten, avoiding gluten is essential. But that doesn't mean avoid all whole grains. There are plenty of other delicious options out there.
For the rest of us, we would benefit from varying the whole grains we eat and soaking them whenever possible, to get the most nutrition possible.
Reading suggestions: "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon, "Whole Grains" by Lorna Sass. Chef Melissa Davis has a nutrition degree and has been cooking for 15 years. For more information, go to melissadavisfood.com.
Millet or Quinoa Cakes
4 cups cooked millet or quinoa
tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp salt
1 onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
cup parmesan cheese
Blend eggs with flour and fold in rest of ingredients. Form into patties and saute over medium heat in oiled skillet. Cook until brown and crisp. Serve warm.