The Truth About Wholegrain
The Human Ecology Diet has cereal grain as its foundation. Taken as a group, the grains can feed more people per acre with semi-perishable food than any other food. The nourishing qualities of eating grain plus the ability to store grain for long periods of time with little spoilage have made it the most important single crop in human history. It has assured societies the capacity to survive through periods of drought or the presence of harmful pests. It was insurance against the bad times.
The nutritional profile of grain is excellent. It contains protein, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrate, fats, and fibre in a form that is easy to digest and metabolize. Grain is versatile in use and can be made into porridge, breads, or noodles. In North and South America, the primary grain was maize (corn) or quinoa in the high Andes; oats in the British Isles; buckwheat and barley in Europe; wheat, millet, and rice in the Near and Far East; and wheat and millet in Africa. These grains became synonymous with settled culture.
Agriculture demonstrated the shift to a commensal relationship with the environment. This was the capacity to intelligently farm so that the same land could be used over and over again, and people could stay in one place without completely depleting their resources. The approach of modern organic agriculture is an attempt to return back to this kind of understanding of our relationship to the environment with modern insight and without the chemical maintenance of the soil.
Our Human Ecology Diet
In the Human Ecology Diet, when I talk about whole grains, we are always referring to unrefined cereal grains. This means that only the inedible husk has been removed. The outside shell of the grain, the cellulose, has not been broken. The grain, with this
outer skin intact, is capable of being sprouted and contains the germ, the carbohydrate, and the bran. The micronutrients in the grain are protected. When the outside cellulose is removed, the process of oxidation occurs, and the grains begin to lose their nutritional value. This process is what we call refining.
“Whole grain” on the label doesn’t mean whole grain in the product. The refining process always changes the nutritional value. When the outside seal of the cellulose level is removed, oxidation begins. Aside from the loss of fibre in refined products, there is a loss of protein and antioxidants. This is an important distinction to remember because the food industry will try to fool you in every bend of the road.
Government recommendations always suggest that you increase your consumption of whole grain and then proceed to have pictures of loaves of bread and pasta and breakfast cereals. This inaccurate definition of whole grain leads consumers to choose poor-quality grain products with the idea that they are eating the healthiest option. Most of the bad press for whole grains comes from a lack of clarity between these refined products and whole grains.
Much of the confusion regarding whole-grain consumption is purposely generated by those who support a high consumption of animal-sourced foods. I consider most of this propaganda to be misleading at best and completely counterintuitive. Books like
Wheat Belly and Grain Brain are poorly disguised advertisements for the Atkins diet and its many more recent incarnations, such as the Paleo diet. These low-carbohydrate diets can produce short-term weight loss but are actually dangerous as a healthy way of eating. The unsaid truth is that these diets reduce refined products, containing high fructose sweeteners and sugar.
The contention that grain is responsible for weight gain is proven false when you compare the bodies of those who live on a grain-based diet with those who live on the modern diet of empty calories, high fat, and protein. It has only been since the introduction of fast foods that traditionally grain-based cultures have suffered from obesity.
The issue of phytic acid in grains also became a hot topic for a short time. This is a substance found in grains and nuts and has been labelled as an “anti-nutrient.” This compound binds with minerals in the body and was thought by some to cause mineral loss when eaten. The truth is that this is only a problem when consumed in great quantity as part of a nutrient-poor diet.
The compound is easily deactivated by simply cooking the grain. Soaking grain overnight, sprouting the grain, boiling, fermenting, or germinating also deactivate phytic acid and free up minerals for absorption. According to Rosane Oliviera from the University of Davis, “the consumption of whole grains in recommended amounts seems to have no adverse effect on mineral status whatsoever.” Since it is a powerful antioxidant, phytic acid may be instrumental in reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
It is refined flour products that cause the problems. We need to question the saying, “Best thing since sliced bread.” These are products that have virtually no nutritional content, and they are usually filled with sugars, fats, and chemical agents (even the gluten free or vegan varieties). The commercial breads (including most “whole wheat” varieties), cookies, muffins, cakes, and pizza crusts are a nutritional nightmare mix of trans-fats, refined grain, and simple sugars. These foods raise blood sugar and are difficult to digest.
Wholegrain Rice Our Daily Staple
Rice was cultivated in the Far East for nine thousand or ten thousand years, then slowly spread into the Near East and into Europe. Mediterranean-style cooking has incorporated rice for centuries with dishes like paella, stews, and risottos. This is the most nourishing grain and possibly the most delicious. Its naturally sweet taste can be enjoyed on a daily basis. For a complete meal, eat rice with a bean dish, a variety of vegetables, and fermented pickles.
Brown rice gives you lots of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and small amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, and niacin. These B vitamins tend to work hand-in-hand to metabolize the energy from the foods you eat, while supporting blood-cell formation. You’ll also get magnesium, phosphorus and calcium, potassium, and a small amount of sodium for fluid balance and heart functions.
Millet has been cultivated in the Far East for at least ten thousand years and eventually spread into Africa, where it is used still to this day. In some cultures, it is the principal food crop. In Europe, it was seldom used; but as people became more used to using whole grains in their diet, it has become more popular.
Some may find that lightly roasting millet before using it brings out its sweetness. Oftentimes, people use gravies or sauces on top of the millet as it can have a tendency to be a little dry. It can also be used as a porridge and is good added into soups and stews.
Millet is alkaline, and it digests easily. The serotonin in millet is calming to your moods. It is a super carbohydrate with lots of fibre, and it is low in simple sugars.
Magnesium in millet can help reduce the effects of migraines and heart attacks. Niacin (vitamin B3) in millet can help lower cholesterol. Scientists in Seoul, South Korea, concluded that millet may be useful in preventing cardiovascular disease. All millet varieties show high antioxidant activity. It is an effective alkalising agent and is the only whole grain that does not produce stomach acid, so it is a great food for those who have suffered from ulcers.
Millet is gluten-free and non-allergenic. It is a great grain for sensitive individuals, and the high protein content (15%) makes it a substantial addition to a vegan diet. Millet and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a cofactor for more than three hundred enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion.
Barley is a grain that has wonderful warming qualities when eaten, but it is usually associated with brewing and making beer. It’s a wonderful food in the colder months.
One of the most popular uses for it is, of course, to use it in soups and stews as it makes these dishes creamy and hearty. There is nothing nicer on a winter day than a barley vegetable stew.
Barley has an inedible portion of husk that runs down the centre of the grain. Because of this, most barley is “pearled” and thus refined. By itself, barley is a great low-fat grain, chock-full of nutrients; and it is reputed to aid the body in breaking down fat.
Oats are similar to barley in use; rolled oats and oatmeal are the common forms, but the whole grain can be used as porridge. Similar to barley, this is an excellent winter grain, particularly in cold and wet climates. This is due to the fact that it has more
fats than other grains. Steel-cut oats (US)—also called pinhead oats, coarse oatmeal (UK), or Irish oatmeal—are groats (the inner kernel with the inedible hull removed) of whole oats that have been chopped into two or three pieces. Steel-cut oats are traditionally used to make porridge as well as oatcakes and the like.
Quinoa is often touted as a superfood, particularly because of its high protein content; but, interestingly, oats have more protein than quinoa. This is a grain that thrives in a dry, high environment such as the Andes, where it originates. It is still the principal food for many of the native people that live in those high mountain areas. It has been domesticated for over seven thousand years.
Quinoa should be rinsed well before cooking to remove the outer coating—the saponin can give the grain a slightly bitter taste. It contains high levels of protein and a nearly perfect balance of essential amino acids. The small yellow seeds turn translucent when cooked. Compared to other grains, quinoa is higher in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc.
Corn is a grain that developed in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. Up to the first European landings, most Native American people on the East Coast of America, the Southwest, Mexico, and South America were living on a diet that was based around the consumption of corn, or maize. Corn can either be eaten fresh as sweet corn or ground into a meal.
Buckwheat has a very strong taste; however, some people (myself included) love the hearty, earthy taste. Buckwheat is the most warming of all the grains. Its use has been traced back to very cold areas, particularly in Mongolia, Tibet, and in Russia and
Finland. It has been documented to be in use since about 5,000 BC; and in the Balkans, it was cultivated regularly from about 4,000 BC. Buckwheat is actually a “pseudo cereal.” It is gluten-free, making it a popular substitute for other wheat-based foods. You can use this as a grain in soups, or you can use it with sauces; but most people are familiar with it as being used in noodles or as a flour product. In whole form, it is eaten primarily as “kasha,” and in noodle form such as soba or as a porridge.
Buckwheat is also high in manganese, magnesium, copper, and zinc, which are great for the immune system. It contains all eight essential amino acids, including lysine, which plays a key role in collagen production and is not produced by the human body.
Wheat is the most widely used of all the cereal grains. Most of it is ground and made into flour products. Hard wheat varieties have more gluten in them and are therefore used more popularly to make both noodles and flatbreads. Wheat products are popular in almost every cuisine around the world, in one form or another, but usually used in breads.
Wheat is rich in mineral salts, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, chlorine, arsenic, silicon, manganese, zinc, iodide, copper, vitamin B, and vitamin E. This wealth of nutrients is why wheat is often used as a cultural base or foundation of nourishment. Since there is a high gluten content in wheat, some may find it an advantage to remove wheat from the diet for a test period and see if they notice a difference. Most problems that are experienced with wheat may be down to three factors:
- Flour products can cause havoc if there is poor digestion; whole grain that has not been finely ground is easier to digest. Because the bread dissolves quickly in the mouth, it is seldom chewed well and mixed with the digestive enzymes in the mouth that aid digestion.
- Breads often contain yeast, sugars, milk, or other products that inhibit digestion or create nutritional problems.
- The presence of excessive gluten. Modern bread and baked food production has favoured very high gluten varieties of wheat. Making sourdough bread, where commercial yeast is not used, is better if you have no specific problems with bread use.
The sourdough process uses a starter that contains naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeasts. The fermentation that takes place makes the bread more digestible, needs less gluten (can be made with low-gluten varieties of grain), and does not create the
lift in blood glucose that yeasted bread does.
Join us in one of our programmes and learn to create delicious dishes with all of these incredible grains.
In good health
Bill and Marlene