Having highlighted Vegetables & Fruits, and Proteins (in Parts 1 & 2), we now consider Whole Grains, which should ideally form a little less than a quarter of a ‘healthy and balanced plate’. The health aspects of whole grains have been known for long. However, despite the wisdom of early healers like Hippocrates ( 4th. century BC), the advice on the quantity and quality of grains that should be consumed has been inconsistent. Today, while the consumption of whole grains continues to be a healthy practice in rural areas, one of the unfortunate by-products of rapid urbanisation has been the swift replacement of whole grain-based healthy nutrition by fad-led saturated fat-laced meats and empty carbohydrates. In ‘developed’ countries most people now do not consume the recommended 2-3 servings of whole grains per day – in fact many do not consume any. This is despite the recommendations of physicians and scientists, who have been stamping the virtues of whole grains for the prevention of constipation since the early 1800s – leading to the ‘fibre hypothesis’ in the early 1970s, which suggested that whole foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, provide the necessary fibre along with other healthy constituents.
‘Refined’ grains only seem to have a connotation of being ‘up-market’ and ‘tastier’, while actually, by ‘refining’ we are losing out all the health benefits that are contained in the ‘germ’ and the ‘bran’. Grain-refining results in the loss of dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, lignans, phytoestrogens, phenolic compounds and phytic acid. The bran and germ fractions provide a majority of the biologically active compounds - for example, high concentrations of B vitamins and minerals, and elevated levels of basic amino acids and tocol levels in the lipids. Once they are stripped away, the (refined) grain leaves us with ‘empty carbs’ devoid of healthy fibre. In fact, while pandering to our taste buds, refined flours can spike blood glucose levels, play havoc with micro flora in the gut and significantly increase constipation and obesity. It is most ironical (and worrisome) that healthy whole grains, which are a wonderful aide to preventing chronic diseases, are being made ‘impotent’ by ‘refining’ and ‘processing’ them. Fortunately, in the last two decades, plenty of science-based evidence has given us yet another chance to switch back to whole grains. They not only help in avoiding constipation (which itself can be a root cause for many diseases), but the consumption of whole grains can be an important preventative for major chronic diseases and various cancers of the gut. Consumption of whole grains may also help regulate blood glucose levels and be helpful in managing Type 2 Diabetes.
The different beneficial components in whole grains work together to protect your health. Whole grains may also support weight management, by protecting you from over-eating, as they provide bulk to the diet.
Tip of the Week
Getting more whole grains into your diet is not difficult. You should opt for whole-wheat chapatis or tandoori rotis, and not ‘naans’ or ‘parathas’ or ‘luchis’ that are made with refined flours. Other than rice or breads, you can enjoy a broad range of ready-to-eat grain breakfast cereals, instant oatmeal, quinoa, whole grain couscous, quick-cooking brown rice and whole-grain biscuits. When buying grain foods, be wary of misleading label claims. Look for products that list ‘whole grain’ at the top of the ingredient list, without any complicated sounding embellishments. If feasible, buy whole grain and mill it or cook it in your own kitchen. In addition, look for restaurants and fast-food venues that offer whole grain options. Interestingly, antioxidant activity can be enhanced in grain based foods by browning reactions during baking and toasting, which increase the total antioxidant activity in the final product - as compared to raw ingredients. The moral of the story is - do not throw away the bread crusts.
Nature's Wonder Food(s) of the Week: Chronic Disease Taming Foods (Part 3) - Whole Grains
As summarised in Parts 1 & 2, a well balanced, varied and wholesome diet, which is alkalising, mainly plant-based and, whenever possible, fresh and organic, is indeed the best for overall health. When combined with a healthy activity level, the consumption of traditional locally available foods helps to cultivate the right kind of immunity enhancing micro-flora in the gut. The major cereal grains include wheat, rice, bulgur, maize, oats, rye, barley, triticale, sorghum and various millets. Artisanal ‘Ancient Grains’ like Spelt , Kamut and Khorasan wheat are also in the process of being re-discovered as healthy options. ‘Pseudo-grains’ like amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat are normally included with ‘true’ cereal grains because their nutritional profile, preparation and use are similar. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations had officially declared 2013 as ‘The International Year of the Quinoa’. Quinoa is super-dosed with antioxidants; the concentration of two flavonoids (quercetin and kaempferol) in it can sometimes be greater than their concentration in high-flavonoid berries. Many delicious whole grains, such as millet, teff and sorghum have strong roots, coming from the early agricultural traditions of Africa. Teff is the star ingredient in ‘injera’ bread - a spongy, Ethiopian flatbread that uses a natural fermentation process similar to that used in sourdough bread, which helps make some of the nutrients more bio-available. Sorghum flour is perhaps best known for its role in gluten free baking, as the sweet taste and texture somewhat mimics that of wheat flour. Whole grains like jowar (millet), bajra (pearl millet), jau (barley), ragi (finger millet) and kuttu (buckwheat) are consumed very commonly in the rural parts of India. While many are staples, some are much awaited seasonal delicacies - like ‘makki ki roti’. Millets are antioxidant rich, buckwheat can help reduce blood sugars, while ragi is a heart healthy grain that can also be used as a semi-solid food for young children. Jau is excellent for the liver. Both bajra and corn also have good iron content. Most of the whole grains are high in fibre and antioxidants and can effectively help with weight management. City dwellers need to re-discover what the simple rural folk already know – that the key to good health lies in substituting (simple) empty carbs with complex whole grains.
To be continued: In the concluding Part 4 we will cover the remaining foods, like fats & beverages, that can help prevent Chronic Diseases.
For Education purposes only; always consult a Healthcare Practitioner for medical conditions