“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’”
The second misunderstood foodstuff that I will shed light on is whole grains (the first post in this series is found here). Whole cereal grains are seeds from the Poaceae grass family (Vaughan et al. 1997). Botanically speaking, cereal grains may be considered the fruits or caryopses of the grass family. Therefore, from a biblical perspective, humans were absolutely meant to consume grains.
One of the main reasons why grains are misunderstood is because they consist mainly of carbohydrates (approximately 80% on average looking at the grains in my pantry). However, that is one of the reasons why it is so health-promoting! The carbohydrate in grains is primarily in the form of starch (Serna-Saldivar 2012), which is the energy store of the plant itself. Starch is a polysaccharide in the form of amylose or amylopectin, consisting of chains of monosaccharides. The body must break down the polysaccharide chains before the usable energy in the molecules may be utilized. Therefore, starch satisfies hunger for long periods of time since the digestive system is put to work breaking down the molecules in the food. This is why grains are so beneficial for weight loss (McKeown et al. 2010).
The slow digestion of starch also leads to a healthier gut microbiome, similar to the effects of beans (Walter et al. 2013). Some starch, known as resistant starch, resists digestion in the small intestine and is carried through the digestive system to feed the good bacteria in the large intestine (Hylla et al. 1998). This leads to healthier digestion overall and may help prevent colon cancer (Young et al. 2004).
Apart from their superb nutritional value, grains are some of the cheapest food-stuffs in the world. Rice can be bought in bulk for less than $1.00 per pound in the United States (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Other “fancier” grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet or teff may be more expensive than rice, but they are increasingly cheaper when bought in the bulk section in the grocery store. Grains, along with starchy vegetables and beans, are the most economic foods for any household.
Grains are also extremely versatile. There are over 40,000 varieties of just rice in the world, according to the Rice Association. They can be bought dry, frozen, quick-cooking, or ground into flour. As a result, grains are used in a variety of dishes like soups, stews, or casseroles, and they can be utilized for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I enjoy whole grains all day long when I have the chance, with oatmeal for breakfast, soup and whole grain toast for lunch, and a burrito bowl with rice with beans for dinner. This is just one sample day of eating, but as you can see from the photos accompanying this post, whole grains can be used for so much more than that.
“Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself.”
If you are thinking of incorporating more whole grains into your diet, know that you are in good company. The largest civilizations, from the Romans to the Aztecs and Incas, relied on grains as a dietary staple. Grains are delicious, nutritious, and they leave you feeling satiated and energized for your day. I hope you try some grains today!
References (apart from the Bible):
Hylla, S, A Gostner, G Dusel, H Anger, H P Bartram, S U Christl, H Kasper, W Scheppach. Effects of resistant starch on the colon in healthy volunteers: possible implications for cancer prevention. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Jan;67(1):136-42.
McKeown, N.M., Troy, L.M., Jacques, P.F., Hoffmann, U., O’Donnell, C.J., and Fox, C.S. Whole- and refined-grain intakes are differentially associated with abdominal visceral and subcutaneous adiposity in healthy adults: the Framingham Heart Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;92(5):1165-71.
Serna-Saldivar, S.O. (2012). Cereal Grains: Laboratory Reference and Procedures Manual. Food Preservation Technology. Taylor & Francis. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-4398-5565-2.
Vaughan, J. G., C. Geissler, B. Nicholson, E. Dowle, and E. Rice. 1997. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press.
Walter J, Martínez I, Rose DJ. Holobiont nutrition: considering the role of the gastrointestinal microbiota in the health benefits of whole grains. Gut Microbes. 2013 Jul-Aug;4(4):340-6.
Young, G.P., R. K. Le Leu. Resistant starch and colorectal neoplasia. J AOAC Int. 2004 May-Jun;87(3):775-86.
I received many of these references from nutritionfacts.org. I highly recommend this site. Every article lists sources cited so you can check the study for yourself.