The Whole Truth About Whole Grains
In the world of food, it can be confusing to choose the healthiest options. There are so many messages the media and culture through at us. One year a food is healthy, and a couple years or a decade later, it is all the sudden unhealthy. This is one of the pitfalls of the “diet culture”. How do you know what to eat when you get conflicting messages? Well, I want to help clear up some confusion about grains. Let’s look at the whole truth about whole grains.
I am sure you have heard that wheat is “bad” because it has “gluten” in it. Or maybe you heard it is “bad” because it’s a “carb” (also a food faux pas). The truth is grains are a healthy food. The problem is not typically found in the grain itself, but rather in the processing. Think “whole grains” vs “refined grains”. It is important to understand that not all grain processing is created equally. Processing takes a whole grain, think of a grain of wheat picked from a field, and processes it into something else. This could be anything from a hulled grain, all the way to a bleached an enriched white flour. When grains, like wheat, are refined to make (white) flour, they lose about 80-90% of their fiber, 70-80% of their vitamins and minerals, and 90% of their phytochemicals. That is a drastic nutritional loss!
When grains are eaten in their whole form, you get much more nutrition. You get more fiber, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In addition, those who may be sensitive to refined flours, often do not have digestive issues with whole grains. However, when we eat refined grains, we often see digestive intolerances. That is partly due to the lack of nutrients needed by our microbiome to keep us and our gut healthy (a topic for a different day), and due to the properties of the refined grains. For example, pizza dough is often made with high gluten flour. This is because the endosperm of the wheat contains the gluten, which gives the dough structure (elastic property which allows the dough to be hand tossed and stretched). If a whole wheat flour was used it would contain the wheat germ and bran, which do not allow for that elastic property. In essence, we have traded nutrients for texture.
I do want to make a note for those who are thinking, “Well what about my friend who has a wheat allergy? I though they cannot eat wheat”. Yes, that is correct. Those with a wheat allergy cannot eat wheat as they will have an allergic reaction to it. For these folks, yes, they must avoid any wheat/gluten containing foods. For many others out there, who do not have an allergy, whole grains are a much healthier choice, and often improve digestion. A whole grain means all components to the grain are intact. It has the bran, germ, and endosperm. This means it gives us a balance of nutrients – fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. So, the next time you go to the store, I encourage you to read labels and do some comparing. If you have never tried a whole grain (whole wheat berries, oat groats, teff, millet, barley), I challenge you to try one! Who knows, you might have a ”whole” lot of fun!