This week we will focus on Grains, the good, the bad, and the ugly! There is so much misinformation and a lot of misconceptions concerning grains that I barely know where to begin.
You will notice that there are not a lot of grains on my list of what to fit in. That is because in general I believe that we all get too many grains and I don’t need to make you a list to fit them in. Grains are a major source of carbohydrate, but how healthy that is depends on the grain and how much it was processed. The more the grain is processed, the more of its nutritional value was lost in the “process” (pun intended). No grain can be eaten in its truly unrefined state. All grains must be milled and ground, the question is how much? Whole grains have been less processed and contain more of the outer coating called the bran. Grains contain the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. When grains are stripped of their bran and germ, where the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats are stored, all that is left is starch. This is what processed grains have to offer, little or no nutrition and a lot of starch.
Oats differ from wheat and other grains in that they retain their bran and germ, where the nutrition is stored. The less processed the oat the better, but the processing does not do as much damage to the oat as the other grains.
As much as we think of the importance of grains in the diet, they are actually not such the great nutritional and fiber source they are cracked (another pun!) up to be. Think about this, in order to fatten up farm animals they are fed grain, not grass!! It is no different for humans.
I will not be recommending that you eat cereals, breads, pastas, and other processed grains. If you do, please do so in moderation and be sure to read the label thoroughly in search of true whole grains. A product may say “whole grain” even if it has as little as 1% whole wheat! Look for 100% whole wheat. Even then, these products are still processed foods and the wheat they are made with has often been genetically modified. Treat breads, pastas, and cereals as a treat, not a health food.
Then there is the issue of gluten. It is a primary component of grains and is one of the most foods closely associated with food allergies, along with dairy, sugar, and soy. Wheat, especially processed wheat products, is very inflammatory which, is dangerous territory for anyone with an autoimmune disease such as MS, arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and so on. It is also acid forming in the body and must be neutralized by a good supply of alkaline forming foods like vegetables and most fruits in order for the body to maintain a healthy alkaline balance without depleting its supply of calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. For that reason I recommend only 1-3 servings of grains per day and hope to get the healthy fiber and carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit instead.
Oatmeal – As stated earlier, oatmeal when processed maintains more of its nutritional value than other grains because they maintain their bran and germ. Gluten is a component of oats, but it is much smaller in oats than other grains. Those with Celiac or Gluten Sensitivity may need to experiment with their tolerance to oats, but most have shown to tolerate oats.
Nutrients & Health benefits – Because Oats are not stripped of their bran and germ they are a great source of fiber that can actually be used by the body. They contain a type of polysaccharide called beta-glucan which has been proven to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Beta-glucans enhance the immune system and help the body fight bacterial infection. They contain a unique polyphenol antioxidant called avenanthramide which is a powerful anti-inflammatory. It is this phytonutrient that is believed to be responsible for the healing powers of the oatmeal bath. Another reason oats are associated with heart health is they are rich in magnesium which helps keep blood vessels relaxed.
Oats are fairly high in protein, more so than any other cereal with 8 ½ g of protein in 2/3 cup. They also contain phosphorous, potassium, selenium, manganese, iron, vitamin B1, and tryptophan (promoting sleep).
Varieties and Best Choices – In order of most beneficial Oat Groats are hulled, flattened kernels and are the least processed, but not as available. They can be used as breakfast cereal or in stuffing.
Steel-cut oats are produced by running the grain through steel blade that thinly slices them. They require less cooking time than the Groat but they have all of the health benefits.
Old-Fashioned or Rolled oats are groats that are steamed, rolled, and flattened. Make sure Rolled Oats are Old-Fashioned to insure less processing and more nutrients intact.
Quick-Cooking are processed much the same way as Old-Fashioned but they are finely cut before being rolled.
Instant Oatmeal is partially cooked rather than steamed then rolled very thin. Most of the nutritious bran has been removed in the processing and often sugar, salt, and other ingredients are added. This is not the best choice. When compared to boxed processed cereals, it is a “better bad choice”.