Going with the Grain

Wholefood writer Jude Blereau explains the real goodness of grains.

Wholefood writer Jude Blereau explains the real goodnessof grains.

Bad carbs, good carbs, low carbs, high glycemic carbs,gluten free, wheat free - goodness me, it can all geta touch confusing. Grain is such an important part ofa good, wholesome diet that it's worth just taking agood look at just what is what. Yes, grains are carbohydrates,but they are a whole lot more.

Within this wondrous package, nature has provided vitamins(especially B vitamins and E), minerals, proteins (thoughnot complete), good fats (including essential fattyacids and unsaturated fats, and don't forget that vitaminE just noted), phytonutrients and phytochemicals, fibreand, last but not at all least, carbohydrate in theform of starch, which breaks down to one of the body'smost basic fuel sources, sugar. A grain, carbohydrateand all, in its whole state, is a good thing. I wouldconsider a whole grain that which has had only its inediblehusk removed - all the bran and germ are intact, andit's in that bran and germ that most of the goodieslie.

Herein lies the nub and core of the problem. Removingthat bran and germ removes just about all of the nutrients,and changes the way that food will work in your body.Nature hasn't put all those bits there because it washaving a bad hair day, and the brain wasn't quite working.No, they are actually there for a reason.

Anytime a carb or grain gets a bad name (bad carb,low carb, high glycemic carb) it's generally becausestripping away the germ and fibre leaves the endospermexposed - this is the largest portion of the kernel.The endosperm contains the valuable starch, which isthe main source of food for the seed to be. Withoutthe fats, fibre and proteins to slow things down, thisstarch is broken down to sugar rapidly - hence the highglycemic response from the body. Worse still, it hasno density and we are left undernourished, and unsatiated;it is a major root cause of our obesity/diabetes epidemic.

It was never a story of the good grain that turnedbad, determined to unleash this sorrow upon us, butrather the matter of business knowing that when thebran and germ are removed (thus removing the fat thatgoes rancid) shelf life is extended and profits areincreased. As an example, in relation to wheat, thebran and germ contain 28 per cent of the grain's protein,94 per cent of the vitamin B6, 97 per cent of the thiamineand 58 per cent of the riboflavin. The bran contains86 per cent of the niacin and the germ has all of thevitamin E.

Jane Brody (an American nutritionist) calls the refiningof wheat "the rape of the wheat berry", butthis rape can easily be seen in most other grains. Eatingthis refined grain is causing big problems, yet theanswer is not to eat "low carb" manipulatedflour products, but rather, quality whole grains (andone could include good bread here) as part of a wholediet, rich in a wide range of wholefoods - includingsaturated fats please. Your reliance on carbohydrateto fill you up will then immediately be reduced. Pickup those low carb breads, muffins, cakes and pasta andthrow them in the bin. Don't become terrified of grainsand the carbohydrate within. Include good whole grainsand their whole flours in your day but, importantly,eat more protein, more vegetables, more nuts and seeds,and especially more good quality saturated fats. Fatsare an important nutrient source and they help you fillsatiated.

Let's turn to the issue of wheat free/gluten free.There are an awful lot of intolerances to wheat goingon out there and before we even go into the issue ofgluten, I want to put forward this case that we areeating wheat today in ways it's never been eaten before.It used to be:

* Eaten whole (see above), and * Soaked to remove thephytic acid on all whole grains that interferes withabsorption of minerals, especially calcium, magnesiumand zinc but which also breaks down gluten.

It doesn't help that we also spray the life out ofit. Wheat would be the most heavily sprayed grain, inall stages of its life and through to storage. Thesefungicides, pesticides, herbicides are not remotelybody compatible: they are, in effect, designed to kill.It also doesn't help that we then refine what's leftdown to just the starch, making the end result extremelydifficult to digest.

Thus we come to gluten. Gluten is a protein, and theone in wheat is exceptionally difficult to digest -even harder when the grain is refined. As noted above,soaking grain (and, traditionally, it has been) canhelp to break down that gluten. Also, a sourdough breadis much, much more easily digested than one made withbaker's yeast. It's not always the wheat itself perse that you may be reacting to, but the inappropriatepreparation and cooking of that wheat. For example,a generic wheat bread may result in bloating and digestivewoes, but a lovely wholegrain, long sourdough fermentationone won't. Wheat berries (kernels) and their flourswill always be more digestible when soaked with someacid (lemon, vinegar) or my favourite, yoghurt, wheyor buttermilk. Again, this not only helps break downthe phytic acids, but also the gluten.

Many grains contain gluten, yet while you might notbe able to tolerate wheat, you might be able to toleratespelt, kamut, rye, barley or oats (though many wouldargue oats have no gluten). So you might not necessarilyneed to be gluten-free, merely wheat-free. This is anissue of much confusion for many people. For some, glutenin any form is difficult to digest, and the term commonlyused here is Coeliac. For Coeliacs, all gluten grainswill need to be avoided. Gluten-free grains includeamaranth, buckwheat, corn (maize), millet, buckwheat,quinoa and rice.

If you do find yourself unable to tolerate wheat, firstly,give spelt a try. While it does contain gluten, it seemsto be much more easily tolerated than wheat for many,and will behave in pretty much the exact same mannerto wheat when you are cooking. Secondly, use only goodquality sourdough bread and, if you can, soak your grainand flour before use. If you can't tolerate that, giveoats and barley (and their flours) a try before turningto gluten free grains - unless of course, you are diagnosedwith a true gluten intolerance.