Navigating Nutrition – Grains
So several weeks ago I promised to start a series of posts comparing how different eating plans treat each food group in the hopes of finding some overarching guidelines when choosing healthy foods. Today we’ll be looking at grains. If you consider the diet of a typical American, you know that grains are often the foundation of many meals, from cereal or toast in the morning, to sandwich bread at lunch, to pasta or dinner rolls for supper, to cookies or other sweet baked goods for snacks and desserts. It’s very easy to fill up on grains. The question is whether that is good for us. So lets take a look at what the different diets recommend.
If you missed the first post in this series, I’ve already outlined the different diets we’re looking at.
####The Food Pyramid
The Food Pyramid recommends that adults should have 6-8 ounces of grains a day (1 ounce is a serving – such as one slice of bread or 1/2 cup of pasta, or 1 cup of cereal). At least half should be in the form of whole grains, such as whole grain cereal, bread, and brown rice.
####The American Diabetes Association
The ADA also recommends eating mostly whole grains and trying to aim for meals that keep starchy foods (these include grains and starchy vegetables) to about 1/4 of your plate.
Some individuals may follow a meal plan that limits the total number of carbohydrates that should be eaten in a meal or in a day. This is a method my husband has been using for the past few months, and it has had a positive affect on his blood sugar levels.
####Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Diet
No grains allowed. Dr. Bernstein’s diet is very focused on keeping blood sugars at steady normal levels. He maintains that any form of grains convert carbohydrates to sugar so fast that even injected insulin will not be able to keep blood sugar from spiking temporarily. Even whole grains burn too fast for him to recommend them.
####Paleo or Whole 30
No grains allowed. The Whole 30 diet assumes that many of the health problems (both major and minor) are caused by food sensitivities that the person may not even realize, and that a common culprit of these problems is grains. This includes “wheat, rye, barley, millet, oats, corn, rice, sprouted grains and all of those gluten-free pseudo-grains like quinoa.” You also have to cut out any form of these products in other foods. So if a food things like bran, starch, or corn syrup then it is not allowed.
This diet recommends eating only whole grains that are soaked, sprouted or made using sourdough fermentation methods. This is based on the idea that grains contain phytic acid, which is said to be an “anti-nutrient” making it harder for our bodies to absorb the good nutrients in food. If grains are soaked, this phytic acid breaks down and lets our bodies digest more nutrients. The Weston A. Price foundation has some good articles that explain this more fully, including the [benefits of soaking grains](http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/be-kind-to-your-grains) and the [proper way to prepare grains in the traditional method](http://www.westonaprice.org/beginner-videos/proper-preparation-of-grains-and-legumes-video-by-sarah-pope).
The GAPS diet does not allow grains: also based on the idea that many people have sensitivities to grains and they are difficult to digest. The GAPS diet is all about gut health, so it is important that foods are easily processed by the body.
All grains are acceptable; whole grains preferred. The tricky part comes with baked goods, as foods like milk and eggs are not allowed.
The Mediterranean diet encourages a diet built on a foundation of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
1. Nobody claims that highly processed grains (think white flour or white rice) are a health food. So when given the choice, whole grains are the way to go.
2. There seems to be some disagreement on whether grains are essential to a healthy diet or are actually harmful.
3. Many of the objections to grains are based on the idea of them being difficult for our bodies to digest and process properly. This probably causes more problems in some than others.
4. Grains can have a significant effect on blood sugar, and should therefore be monitored by diabetics.
##What are we going to do about it?
I have trouble getting behind a diet that completely cuts out entire food groups. No one in my family seems to have any real sensitivities to grains, so it seems like an unnecessary inconvenience to cut grains out completely. But since there are several diets that make that recommendation it makes me think twice about keeping grains as such a major part of my daily diet. And as I’ve mentioned before, my husband has diabetes and has found that limiting the number of carbs he eats requires less insulin and makes it much easier for him to manage his blood sugar. I feel like there should be a happy medium that could work in a normal person’s life. For my family, I think we will try to follow these simple guidelines.
####1. Grains don’t have to be in every meal.
I think this requires the biggest mental shift for me. Baked chicken with a side of veggies doesn’t need a dinner roll to go with it. Nor does every breakfast need cereal. Meals can be perfectly satisfying without grains. I’m trying more and more to create meals and snacks that are not grain-based.
####2. Keep the grains you do eat whole – and maybe try out soaking or sourdough.
It’s easy enough these days to find whole wheat bread and pasta. Brown rice is cheap and just as good as white rice. I’m interested in branching out in the types of grains I eat as well. I’d like to try more recipes that use whole grains like barley or quinoa, or try some simple soaked grain recipes and see how they go.
####3. Enjoy a treat now and then.
Let’s face it. Grains are required in some of the best treats and comfort foods around. I love fresh baked bread, and cookies, and pasta, and biscuits, and pancakes…. There’s no way I’m ever going to cut those things out of my life completely. But when these things are considered to be more of a treat than a staple it can help you make better choices about what is worth indulging in and what isn’t.
Grains are kind of a hot topic these days. If you want to read a little more about some of the more obscure grain related issues, you can take a look at these sites.
[All You Ever Wanted to Know About Oatmeal: A Guide to Choosing, Soaking and Cooking – Keeper of the Home](http://www.keeperofthehome.org/2008/04/soaking-oatmeal.html) – Oatmeal is a good example between processed and whole grains.
[How and Why to Soak Whole Grains | Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition](http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2009/11/30/soaking-whole-grains-why-do-it/)
[Nutritional Value of Whole Grains | Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition](http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/02/11/food-for-thought-nutritional-value-of-whole-grains/) – A nice explanation of whole grains vs. refined grains, as well as some more information on the whole “should I eat grains or not” debate.