Whole Grains ARE Good for You!

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?!

It turns out her doctor had told her wheat is bad for you and she should avoid it.  More and more, people are hearing this same information, hence the new gluten-free diet craze.  It’s not the wheat itself, but the gluten in the wheat that people have problems with.  As Americans, we eat a lot of wheat, somewhere around 20% of our diet. Some people have serious allergic reactions, while others have sensitivities and minor discomforts from consuming gluten.  But this doesn’t mean whole grains as a food group are bad!

Our prehistoric ancestors did not consume grains, as they were hunters and gatherers, so one could argue that 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 for at least 7 hours allow enzymes to break down and neutralize the phytic acid, as well as increase Vitamin B values.  So it makes sense, if and when we eat whole grains, we should soak them for optimal health and nutrition.

Studies show a high-gluten diet is a strain on the body’s 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 instantly turns to sugar in the body, devoid of their naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and fiber. Really just empty calories like a candy bar.  (I do not suggest this!! I feel it would be better to avoid grains altogether than eat solely refined grains!  I’m just laying out the options here.)

Some people may choose to omit grains from their diet altogether, getting all their dietary needs from fruits and vegetables. This can be a good option for some people, but it takes a huge dedication and focus.   Many Americans aren’t getting enough vegetables in their diet as it is, so I can only see this as an option for the serious health seekers.  Google “raw foods” or “paleo diet” for more info.

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:

Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Whole Grains by Lorna Sass

Millet or Quinoa Cakes

4 cups cooked millet or quinoa
4 eggs
½ cup flour
¼ tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
¾ 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 ’til brown and crisp. Serve warm.

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Categories: nutrition


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5 Comments on “Whole Grains ARE Good for You!”

  1. Deb Kumpula
    January 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    What a timely piece! Thank you! Could I have permission to reprint it for our newsletter?

    • melissadavisfood
      January 26, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

      totally!!! let me know if you want any additional info to share, like more recipes or how to soak grains.


  2. ora assayag
    January 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    Here here! Great post. Nice recipe too. I just made one for dinner last night (and put in lunchboxes) just like it but used 3 cups cooked buckwheat, and one cup raw sunflower seeds with 1/2 cup oat flour, 1/2 bunch parsley and a carrot with some eggs and seasoning and pulverized it before cookijng. Served like burgers on whole grain buns, kids inhaled it.

  3. August 22, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    Here is another school of thought for you.
    Grains are natures seeds and are designed to protect the new plant inside by having an indigestible outer casing. So that when animals eat the fruit of a plant the seeds pass through the gut without being digested so it can then germinate in the discarded waste.
    Therefore, the whole grain industry are promoting indigestible food. There are plenty of better sources of less damaging dietary fibre in natural fruit and veg.

  4. Pamela Vanderford
    September 9, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Thank you for this post. With all the negativity against whole grains. It is nice to read an intelligent article regarding this controversy. I believe there needs to be a balance!

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