Whole grains have been a staple food in many cultures for thousands upon thousands of years. They are good source for fiber and a host of essential vitamins and minerals. Whole grains provide a rich source of complex carbohydrates, which are readily converted to usable energy, making them an ideal staple food. Whole grains have not undergone processing which would remove any part of them. The bran, germ, and endosperm are all intact. Refined grains retain only the endosperm or starch—the bran and germ have been removed.
The bran and germ provide fiber, which slows both the digestion of starch and release of sugar into the bloodstream. Whole grains also provide trace minerals and vitamins assisting in the digestion of the carbohydrates. Special fibers found in whole grains have the ability to bind to cholesterol, hormones, and toxins, allowing them to be excreted from our body—this is especially important in our increasingly toxic world.
Recent research from Cornell University found that whole grains contain potent disease-fighting chemicals that have equal antioxidant values to those found in fruits and vegetables. Dr. Liu, the researcher looking at these compounds in whole grains, summed it up best by saying: “Different plant foods have different phytochemicals. These substances go to different organs, tissues, and cells, where they perform different functions. What your body needs to ward off disease is this synergistic effect—this teamwork—that is produced by eating a wide variety of plant foods, including whole grains.” When whole grains are refined, say into white flour or white rice, most of the fibers, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals are removed in the refining process.
These vital substances protect us from disease. A whole grain that has been processed is easily broken down into simple sugars and then rapidly absorbed into our bloodstream. When there is an extraordinary amount of sugar circulating in the blood, it has a tendency to stick to proteins. These altered proteins lose their normal function and may even stimulate inflammation by binding to immune cells.
As stated earlier, an increase in inflammatory chemicals has been associated with many chronic diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. Each whole grain provides a unique taste and nutrient profile, so vary the grains you cook throughout the week. Remember that some whole grains contain gluten, which is a protein that many people are sensitive to. Grains and flours containing gluten include whole wheat berries, spelt berries, rye berries, kamut, barley, and triticale.
Oats may contain gluten if processed in the same facility as gluten-containing grains. Gluten-free grains include brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, corn, and teff. For information on how to cook whole grains please see here. For increased digestibility of whole grains, soak the grains overnight in water with a little bit of apple cider vinegar, then drain and cook. When using flours, look for ones that are organic and certified gluten-free, preferably sprouted flours. Legumes: Protein, Fiber, and Vitamins Legumes, in addition to whole grains, have been a staple food in many cultures for thousands of years. Bean and grains help to create some of the most exciting dishes found in ethnic cuisine. Beans are packed with an amazing amount of beneficial amino acids.