Dining

The Whole Truth About Whole Grains

Just to add them isn't enough.

Comments (2)
Thursday, October 13, 2011

We hear a lot about the benefits of whole grains—and not just from the people who sell them to us. Getting people to eat more whole grains is also a major pillar of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. We're told that people who eat more whole grains are healthier—they have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and many other diseases. But this isn't quite true.

People who eat whole grain products—such as whole wheat bread—instead of refined grain products—such as white bread—do appear to be healthier. But most of the benefit comes from the fact that they have reduced their consumption of refined grains. When people simply eat more whole grains without eating less refined grain, they don't get the same benefits.

The fact is that most people do not need more grain-based foods in their diets. And while whole grains are definitely a better choice than refined grains, don't let that "health halo" blind you to the following realities:

1. Whole grain foods are not that much lower in calories.

Many people assume that whole grain foods are significantly lower in calories than refined grains, but this is not the case. A slice of 100 percent whole wheat bread has approximately the same number of calories as a piece of white bread, for example. A cup of brown rice actually has a few more calories than a cup of white rice. The differences between whole grain pasta and white pasta are also minimal. The good news is that, even though it might not be much lower in calories, the whole grain option may help you feel fuller for longer—primarily because of the extra fiber.

2. Whole grain products are only slightly easier on your blood sugar than refined grains.

As a general rule, you want to avoid foods that cause a rapid rise and fall in your blood sugar levels. That's one big reason that I suggest you limit your intake of foods that contain a lot of sugar. Starch, which is the main component of grains, can also cause a fairly rapid rise in blood sugar. And while whole grains cause a smaller rise than refined grains, the difference is not as great as you might imagine.

3. Whole-grain foods are not nutrient-dense.

We also hear a lot about how nutritious whole grain foods are. Although they are higher in some nutrients than their refined counterparts, the amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber they provide is still fairly modest.

4. What is glycemic load?

Glycemic load refers to how a given food affects your blood sugar level. It's related to the glycemic index, but I find glycemic load more useful because it also takes into account how much of that food you eat—which, as you'll see in a moment, makes a really big difference.

The glycemic load of a small plate of regular (white) pasta as about 23, which is considered high. The glycemic load of a small plate of whole wheat pasta is only 15, which is moderate. A large plate of whole wheat pasta, however, has a glycemic load of 30, or very high. Here's the point that I want to make: in terms of your blood sugar, a small plate of white pasta is better than a large plate of whole wheat pasta.

Choosing a whole grain option does not give you license to have a larger helping. It's important to watch portion size with all grain-based foods—even whole grain foods.

5. What is nutrient density?

Nutrient density refers to how much nutrition a food provides for the calories. If one food provides the same nutritional value as another but has only half the calories, we say it is twice as nutrient-dense. For all the talk about the nutritional value of whole grains, you'd probably think that they are much more nutrient dense than refined grains—but they're really not.

On a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 representing the most nutrition for the calories and 0 representing the least, most refined grain products, such as white bread, pasta, and rice are in the 2.5 to 2.8 range. The whole grain alternatives range from 2.9 to 3.3 or so—a bit better. Most vegetables, on the other hand, are way up in the 4.5 to 5.0 range.

Replacing a refined grain with a whole grain alternative offers a slight nutritional upgrade but nowhere near as big an upgrade as replacing it with an extra serving of vegetables.

 

Comments (2)
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As a person living with blood sugar dysregulation, and a natural foods eater for over four decades, I am thrilled to see someone FINALLY acknowledge that whole grains can wreck havoc on blood sugar! Thank you!

I would love to see restaurants offer grain-free (not just gluten free!) choices, such as shiritaki noodles, and baked goods made with chickpea flour.

Posted by Donna Faith K-Brooks on 10.12.11 at 17:55

The real truth about whole grains is simply this. Whole Grains are seeds. You can put any whole grain in fertile soil, water it, and in a few days it will sprout. But the sprout is not a whole grain. It's a sprout. Don't get me wrong. I love sprouts. But sprouts are not whole grains.

Whole Grain bread is an oxymoron. So is whole grain pasta. Whole Wheat bread is made from flour not whole grains. Flour is not a source of whole grains. Flour is made by processing and refining the whole grain seeds. All flour started out as a whole grain but to imply that whole grain flour is the same as a whole grain seed is silly. It's like trying to say that sawdust is the same as a redwood tree. Ridiculous.

The best way to receive the considerable nutritional benefits from whole grains...is to consume them in their "whole" as in "in tact and unadulterated" form. And that would mean primarily...to soak them, rinse them, wash them, clean them, cook them (mostly boil, bake or pressure cook) and eat them along with other delicious cooked or raw whole foods...as our ancestors did for thousands of years.

Almost any other form a whole grain takes (meaning that we as people make these "other forms" from the whole grain seed via some form of processing) other than the simple method of cookingdescribed above (its hard to eat raw whole grains which is one of the reasons the art of cooking emerged in the first place)...is a form of processing...and processed grains are no longer whole...they are processed as in cut, flattened, rolled, crushed, milled...and/or made into flour.

Porridge oats are made from whole oats.(not from steel cut oats or rolled oats which are both forms of processed grains.) The brown rice you ask for in a restaurant is whole grain rice. The whole wheat bread you make your sandwich with is not a source of whole grains. The bread is made from flour which is the result of a process of refining or milling the whole grains into flour.

This distinction between whole grains and processed grains takes a while to wrap our minds around because we have been so continuously brainwashed by the cereal makers for the last hundred years that most people today actually believe that "Wheaties" (for example) is a source of Whole Grains. It isn't. Wheaties...and most every other cereal in a box or bag...including granola and muesli and rolled oats...are not whole grains but processed grains.

Once you understand the difference between whole grains and processed grains everything else makes much more sense.

Whole grains are complex carbohydrates and convert to sugar more slowly.

Refined grains in any form are refined carbohydrates and convert to sugar rapidly.

Notice that both whole grains and refined grains convert to sugar. How rapidly they convert to sugar is the key to maintaining your own blood sugar in balance.

Eating six donuts in 15 minutes will cause a rapid and dramatic increase in blood sugar. Eating a bowl of organic quality cooked brown rice in 15 minutes will not do this. The brown rice will convert to sugar as all forms of grains do...but it is the speed at which it converts to sugar and enters our bloodstream that spells the difference between balance and imbalance...homeostasis...or some form of metabolic imbalance...like hyperglycemia.

Traditionally, the grains that were consumed in the form of porridge on a daily basis by our ancestors living in four season climates included: rice (over 500 varieties in China alone), oats, barley, millet, rye, buckwheat, corn, amaranth, quinoa, teff. (but mostly rice, oats, and barley)

The following list of processed foods are NOT sources of whole grains but are highly refined foods, high glycemic foods, made from processed grains...and as you can see...mostly in combination with flour. butter or oil and sugar: cookies, cakes, pies, donuts, muffins, bagels, crackers, bread, pasta, and most every breakfast cereal in a box or bag including rolled oats, granola and muesli.

As you can see, most people are not eating cooked whole grains. Most people are eating highly processed foods from commercial bakeries which are mostly flour products made from refined grains.

No wonder we have a diabesity epidemic in this country. Most people are overfed yet undernourished, misinformed and uncertain, stressed out and pissed off at all the so called experts who continue to purposely mislead them (like the cereal makers) or simply fail to educate them properly about the whole truth about anything.

Refined grains in any form will cause blood sugar imbalances but properly cooked whole grains will not as long as they are balanced with other whole foods...as our ancestors did for thousands of years.

Lastly and most importantly, whatever food you choose to eat make the distinction between certified organic quality and everything else. There is still some debate as to whether or not certified organic foods contain more nutrients, but there is no debate whatsoever that certified organic foods are cleaner and "greener" and do not contain herbicides and pesticides, fillers, binders, preservatives, coloring agents, bleaches, dyes, dessicants (drying agents) and gmo's.

Russell Mariani, South Hadley www.healingdigestiveillness.com

Posted by Russell Mariani on 10.13.11 at 21:26
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