I want to present a post here on grains, but know that this can be another controversial subject. I am aware of the many theories about grains, the gluten controversy, and allergies. I am not hard-lined on this subject. I completely understand the arguments on both sides. So-whatever side you fall on, or if you ride the line like me-good we can agree! I’m not going to do a grain vs grain free diet debate.
I would first like to define how we eat grains. I do not prepare any food that we consume at home with refined grains (with the occasional exception of a little organic/unbleached All Purp flour). This is a PROCESS! Getting away from all refined carbs is very difficult and requires a lot of work. There is no way around that. We have stopped buying any boxed mix of anything and instead making everything from scratch. Yes, literally everything. I know it sounds very intimidating, and I am not saying that is what YOU have to do, that’s just what I do.
What is a refined grain?
In a nutshell, it is any grain that has undergone a process removing parts of the whole grain. Let’s just talk wheat for a minute. There are three (main) components to a wheat grain. The bran, the endosperm, and the germ. The bran is outer part of the grain, providing the fiber content as well as a host of vitamins, minerals and phytic acid (we will get to this later). The germ is the embryo of the seed- the part that will germinate if given the right environment. The germ is very high in Vitamin E, folic acid, and many other vitamins and minerals. Both the bran and the germ are removed in refining process. The endosperm is the main part of the grain, this is the starch and where the well-known gluten protein is found. The endosperm is all that is left after the refining process and this is what is milled to make white flour (which is also typically bleached).
Why are refined grains bad?
Firstly, you are missing out on a ton of healthy vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, & fiber that come from the other parts of the grain. Companies will add these missing vitamins and minerals back into refined products in the form of synthetics. Your body does not assimilate synthetic vitamins in the same way. In fact, your body will use its own vitamin and mineral reserves to help you digest these refined products, thus depleting the body. The term “empty calories” should be more appropriately called “negative calories” because they actually take things from your body. Secondly, the refining process can be done with the use of chemicals so you are subjecting yourself to further chemical exposure. Third, after the refining process, really all that is left of the grain is the starch, which the body converts into pure sugar. Refined grains will cause major insulin spikes due to the high sugar rush into the bloodstream as a result of eating these products.
What is a whole grain?
Basically, a whole grain is a grain that has all the biological parts still in the party. The fiber, the oils, the starch. When consuming whole grains in your diet the fiber helps your body digest the grain a little more slowly so that it doesn’t cause the sugar spike. The fatty acids such as Vit E present in the germ help your body to absorb all the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, K). However! There is a caveat, when a whole grain is broken (as in the milling of wheat) and the germ is exposed, the oils can quickly go rancid (read the previous post as to why rancid oils are bad!) This is another reason why refined goods (stripped of oils) are so popular- they have a very long shelf life. Whole wheat flour has a very short shelf life because of the oils present and their tendency to go rancid very quickly.
How do we get around this?
Well, my recommendation (and some might not like this!) is to grind all of your own flour at home from whole wheat berries. Cornmeal? Grind your own corn. This way you can choose the quality and type of product that you want. I buy a variety of wheat that is excellent for bread as well as pastries. I grind any and all grains in my Vitamix, although there are products on the market that are just designed for grain grinding. I think it is a worthy investment and one I will always appreciate. If you can’t afford to do this option, I still recommend buying whole wheat flour when possible and making everything from scratch so as to avoid preservatives and synthetic vitamins. As I said above, I do occasionally use a little all purpose flour (which is refined!) if I am making or thickening a sauce of some sort, it just seems to work better. I will also use in some bread recipes if I need a little bit “lighter” of a bread. But I rarely use it alone, always with fresh flour.
Is there anything bad in whole grains?
Yes. I was surprised to learn that there are actually some downfalls to whole grains. Phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors are the two gotcha’s. Phytic acid is found in grains, nuts, legumes, & seeds. Without getting to scientific on ya, phytic acid will bind to minerals and prevent your body from absorbing them. Phytic acid will bind most notably to iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. Humans do not have the enzyme (phytase) present in the body needed to break phytic acid down. The other problem that can arise from whole grains are enzyme inhibitors. God created grains so that they would only germinate under the proper conditions (moist, warm, and light). The enzyme inhibitors prevent the grain from sprouting until those specific conditions are met. But with those inhibitors in the way, our body cannot digest the grain as well. The enzymes needed to break down all the components are bound up and working to prevent the grain from premature sprouting, not working for us. Does that make sense?
So what do I do?
Well, the easiest way to solve BOTH of those issues above is to meet those specific requirements! There are three ways to accomplish this. You can begin sprouting the grains, soak the ground flour in a slightly acid liquid, or use fermentation (think sourdough!). Any of these three methods releases enzymes, breaks down phytic acid, and also “pre-digests” hard to digest proteins such as gluten. People with gluten sensitivity have been known to tolerate grains if prepared in this fashion. I know this probably sound intimidating, but it really isn’t. There are a ton of resources and “how-to’s” available. I will link to some of those below if you want to learn more. I think soaking your flour and grains is the easiest possible thing to do. Just takes remembering to do it the day/night before. Want oatmeal in the morning? Throw your oatmeal with your water and a tablespoon or so of lemon juice in a bowl. Then in the morning, dump the whole thing into the pot and cook normally. Tastes fantastic and you know your body can break it down easily and absorb all the tasty nutrients. See easy huh? You can even buy sprouted flour (its possible to make your own too). And while sourdough sounds intimidating, once you get the hang of it and are willing to remember to feed it, it’s a cinch and so much fun!
Here’s a link for a free e-book with recipes using the soaking method: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/05/09/download-is-your-flour-wet-a-soaked-grains-ebook-for-free/
More on soaking:
How-to Sprouting Grains:
Considering Sourdough? (Ps- I have more than enough starter to share!):
The key here, as with any new thing, is to take baby steps! I started soaking my grains, then started the sprouting process after I got a dehydrator (you can do without it though), and then I jumped on the sourdough bandwagon. My favorite of course is the sourdough!
Have you missed the first couple of posts in this series? Check them out here: