‘Getting Grounded with Grains’: Article 1 of 4
Written By: McKenna Garrison & Meg De Jong
An Introduction to Grains
Welcome to the first official post of the ‘Getting Grounded with Grains’ 4 Part Blog Series!
In this introductory article to grains, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about both purchasing and consuming grains.
But before we get into it, we wanted to give a quick explanation as to WHY we’re doing this ‘Getting Grounded with Grains’ series!
Why a Series on Grains?
Over the past few years, grains have received a lot of flack. And for good reasons; conventionally grown grains are some of the most heavily sprayed, chemical laden, highly refined foods. They are often stripped of their nutrients and made into products loaded with sugar, and poor quality ingredients (think: sugary breakfast cereals or store bought donuts, muffins, cookies, etc.).
Some argue that humans were never meant to eat grains as they’re a relatively modern food to the human diet. This school of thought suggests that grains do more harm than good, causing digestive issues, weight gain, inflammation, and can contribute to autoimmune conditions (8).
On the flip side, many others state that grains are highly nutritious, provide energy, strengthen the gut microbiome, and are supportive against conditions such as high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. It’s also important to note that grains are considered a traditional food within many cultures, and an important diet staple (7).
So that begs the question…do we eat grains or should we avoid them?
Let’s just say, it’s complex! There is evidence to support both and frankly, grain consumption is completely individualized based on the person, and their unique body and needs!
In this series, you’ll learn that when prepared with certain considerations (we’ll get into this below), we as nutritionists behind the series, believe organic whole grains within moderation can be a great source of nutrition, for the majority of those who consume them!
For a lot of people, grains make for an affordable, nutritious, and convenient diet addition – and if that’s you, we want to be sure we’re sharing all the info you need to get max benefits from consuming them!
Here’s what to look forward to over the next 4 weeks in the ‘Getting Grounded with Grains’ Series:
- Article 1: An Intro to Grains (this one you’re reading!)
- Article 2: Grains and Anxiety
- Article 3: Grains and Gut Health
- Article 4: A Deep Dive into Bread – along with a special surprise announcement 🙂
Whether you choose to eat grains or not, our hope is to reduce some fear around them and get you ‘grounded’ in the information you need to know! And just maybe, we can spark a conversation about the production and preparation of grains in today’s modern society.
Okay – so now it’s time to get into the good stuff!
What are Grains?
In general, grains are seeds and fruits of cereal grasses, that are often referred to as “kernels” (1). Whole grains (aka grains before they go through refining processes) contain 3 distinct parts;
- The bran: outer shell with B-vitamins and fiber
- The germ: the core containing most of its nutrients for sprouting
- The endosperm: starchy carbohydrates and some protein that fuel plant growth
Refined grains only contain the endosperm, whereas whole grains contain all 3 parts of the grain still intact. This is important to distinguish as the germ and bran are where the majority of the nutrients and fibre lie (2).
A Few Health Benefits of Consuming Grains:
- High in nutrients: grains contain many phytochemicals and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. They also provide B vitamins, vitamin E, protein, fat, and fiber! These nutrients are often highest in ancient grains.
- Antioxidant rich: mostly found in the germ layer, containing vitamin E, carotenoids, and ferulic acid (a polyphenol). These help scavenge for free radicals and have been proven helpful in reducing the risk of cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (5).
- Increase butyrate production: butyrate is an important short chain fatty acid produced by the bacteria in the gut. It’s been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and provide energy for cells within the colon, strengthening the intestinal cell wall while supporting the immune system (5).
- Decreases protein fermentation: when protein is fermented within the gut, digestive issues such as gas and bloating may happen. Whole grains can help reduce protein fermentation and prevent these uncomfortable symptoms (4).
Types of Grains
When you think grains – is ‘wheat’ the only thing that comes to mind? It definitely is for a lot of people! However, there are tons of different types of grains and we recommend consuming a wide variety of them to get all sorts of benefits!
Examples of Different Grain Types:
- Rice- brown, red, black, wild*
- Red Fife
- Khorasan/ Kamut ™
*Indicates the grain is gluten free
What to Look Out for When Consuming Grains?
If you decide to consume grains, below are the things to consider when purchasing:
- Organic: grains (specifically wheat and corn) are some of the most heavily contaminated crops with pesticides – buying organic reduces your exposure to these harsh chemicals such as glyphosate
- Processing (stone milled vs roller milled flour):
- Roller milling: most common milling technique for industrial grain- removes the germ and bran which contain most of the nutrients/flavour, leaving behind the starchy endosperm
- Stone milling: a traditional form of milling- the grain is milled in between two large stones. This process preserves all three parts of the grain, creating a more nutritious flour! *This is the gold standard to look out for when purchasing grains!*
- Ancient whole grain varieties: they include spelt, emmer/farro, einkorn, quinoa, and many more! These grains have been mostly unchanged over time, as a result, they’ve had less exposure to pesticides and other harsh chemicals. Most of modern wheat has been hybridized and bred many times (7).
- Local (when possible): this not only supports your neighbour farmer, but reduces your chance of toxin exposure! The shorter travel time also helps to reduce the carbon footprint and preserves its freshness- providing more nutrients and better flavour!
- Sprouted: more info on this below – however it’s important to note that sprouted grain products are a great thing to look out for as they’re known to be more digestible. Various ‘sprouted’ grain products can be found in stores, such as Anita’s sprouted flours!
What to Avoid in The World of Grains?
- Pesticides: as mentioned, it’s always best to opt for organic grains – check out this blog post to learn more about the impact pesticides, such as glyphosate, can have on the body.
- Refined grains: these are made of mostly simple carbohydrates with very few nutrients still intact. High consumption of refined grains can quickly lead to spikes in blood sugars!
- Additives: when purchasing grains, ensure that the grain is the only ingredient listed! Additives get snuck into SO many foods and overtime, these can cause major disturbances to the gut and immune system.
How to Consume Grains?
The goal of all plants is to survive and reproduce, that said, plants have built-in defence mechanisms to protect their seed so they can continue to grow! Pretty genius…
However, these barriers are not exactly friendly to people. They include lectin, gluten, phytic acid, and enzyme inhibitors that can be harmful to us. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to mitigate some of these effects and access the plants incredible nutrients!
- Soaking: by letting whole grains sit in warm water for 12-24 hours, it activates the enzyme phytase which helps break down phytic acid, making soaked grains easier to digest than those that are not soaked.
- Sprouting: after soaking, grains can be left to sprout over the course of 3-5 days. This further activates enzymes within the grain that break down starch within the endosperm and convert storage proteins to amino acids- rendering more bioavailable nutrients to the human body (6).
- Fermenting: after grains are soaked, they may be combined with a starter culture or wild bacteria from the air to begin fermentation! Bacteria is the key here, it’s responsible for the breakdown of starchy sugars- fermentation can’t happen without it (3)!
Of these 3 methods, fermentation can be considered the gold standard! It does the best job at deactivating antinutrients, allowing the grains to be digested easier! Just wait until our 4th article where we talk more about this!
How to Add Grains Into Your Diet?
There are so many delicious ways to consume whole grains in your diet! Here are just a few ideas:
- Whole Grain Sourdough toast: topping ideas are endless! One of our go to’s is hummus, grilled tempeh (and/or yams), fresh radish, and a sprinkle of hemp hearts (see picture below)!
- Pasta: Try this tempeh tomato pasta recipe – we recommend opting for an ancient grain pasta. For those who live in B.C., Cowichan Pasta is a great option!
- Grain Nourish Bowl: made with brown rice, millet, or quinoa, baked yams, roasted chickpeas, chopped cabbage and kale – topped with a creamy lemon tahini dressing.
- Oatmeal: Learn how to make your own SuperFood Oatmeal bowls here. Oats are an easy grain to get into the habit of soaking. Do so before you go to bed, give them a quick rinse in the morning, and you’re good to cook them up for breakfast! Steel cut oats are great if you have the time otherwise whole rolled oats are a nice quicker option.
- Healthy treats: made with whole grains such as; cookies, muffins, banana bread, etc. This is one of our fave cookie recipes made with oat flour!
Well that’s all for an introduction into grains for today! We hope this article informed you about the complex topic of grains – and you feel empowered in your diet choices surrounding them – and maybe even excited to try some new types or ways of preparing them!
Stay tuned for the second article in the series where we talk all about grains and anxiety!