Following on from my last post, I wanted to address the 10 most important questions to consider when it comes to breads, grains and flours. Here are the answers plus a really handy free resource…
1. What do farmers feed cattle when they want to fatten them up?
2. What foods do most people think makes them fat?
We believe there is a significant link between our society’s reliance on grains as a staple food and the prevalence of health problems such as obesity and diabetes. One thing you’ll notice with our books is that we recommend increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing your intake of breads, grains and flours. We realise this is contrary to the old (and thankfully discredited) food pyramid which recommends 6-11 servings of grains at the bottom of the pyramid—i.e. the food we should eat most.
We appreciate that grains, although a relatively recent addition to the diet of humanity, have played an extremely important part in agricultural history. Without them, our beautiful planet could not have adequately sustained our growing population. But clinical studies now show that grains have many nutritional short-comings and as with other modern day foods, most of us are eating far too many of them and the wrong types. Does toast and cereal for breakfast, biscuits and cakes for snacks, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner sound like a familiar menu to you?
3. What is in a Grain?
The whole grain is the seed head of a grass and it has three parts:
- Bran—the hard protective part, containing fibre, B vitamins and antioxidants.
- Endosperm—the largest part containing starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
- Germ—the seed, containing some protein, minerals and B vitamins.
Important: Refined grains only contain the endosperm.
4. Why Less Grains?
It is pertinent to mention that grains are generally not a vital source of vitamins and minerals in comparison to fresh fruits and vegetables or even whole proteins. By the time a grain is ready for harvest and is processed, the grain itself has been dead for a long period of time. In fact, there is very little “life force” remaining in it. It is estimated that flour used in baking has lost almost 60% of its nutritional value by the time it is baked into a loaf of bread.
Grains do provide fibre—particularly whole grains—and typically we don’t get nearly enough fibre in our diets. However, if we compare the fibre content of most whole grain breakfast cereals, we find they contain 1-2 grams of fibre per serving or 5 grams at best. Compare this with a serve of beans or an avocado which typically contain 11-17 grams of fibre per serving. It is easy to see that we can source fibre in more wholesome forms. Therefore, we believe grain foods simply can’t compare to non-starchy vegetables.
Lastly, as a carbohydrate, grains provide the body with energy. But because they taste quite bland on their own, people often eat them with sugars, fats and proteins—and a whole lot more calories!
5. Whole Grains versus Refined Grains?
On the whole, whole grains aren’t the health food they are cracked up to be but they are certainly better for us than refined ones because they provide fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals.
In contrast to whole grains, refined grains are milled, ground and sifted, and as a result they undergo significant modification from their natural form. This process generally involves the removal of the bran and germ and thus most of the nutritional content. As such, refined grains are considered nutritionally inferior to whole grains.
Unfortunately, almost all grains have to be milled and ground to some degree, because in their natural state they may contain substances that block the absorption of minerals.
6. Which Grains?
The whole grains we recommend include unhulled oats, brown rice, spelt and kamut, quinoa, barley, burghul (bulgar), whole grain crackers and crisp breads. For more information on some of these grains, please see the glossary in Lunchbox Solutions.
Rice is very popular staple food but the white rice grain that ends up on most family’s dinner tables is nutrient-poor, having had the bran and germ removed in the production process. At the same time, all of the fibre, 60% of the mineral content, essential fatty acids and the vitamins are also removed.
We strongly recommend switching from white rice to brown rice which has a much higher nutrient content and a lower glycaemic index; because it takes longer to digest, brown rice reportedly helps to stabilise blood sugar levels. It is also tastier, with a slightly nutty flavour that brown rice aficionados love.
Our favourite rice is brown basmati rice, which contains about 20% more fibre than other types of brown rice. White basmati rice, like other white rices, has a poor nutrient content but it does have a lower glycaemic index.
7. Which Breads?
If you are searching for a healthy, wheat-based bread for your family, try to source whole grain products. Varying degrees of milling of the grain produce whole wheat, brown and white types of flour. Different types of flours are used for different breads; for example, bread flour (or “strong flour”) has a high protein content and good gluten strength. Rye in its purest form has low levels of gluten; however, most commercial rye breads will have other gluten grains added.
Whole grain flour does not keep very well so white flour is preferred. These refined breads are often labelled “vitamin enriched”, which refers to the vitamins added by the manufacturer to replace the original vitamins and minerals lost through processing. Some manufacturers may add grains at this point, marketing this white, glue-like substance (with its added seeds and grains) as a healthier bread option. These light-weight white breads also generally contain preservatives and anti-fermenting agents to increase their shelf life.
Wherever possible, choose organic breads or flours and check that no preservatives or anti-fermenting agents have been added. You can generally test the bread’s quality by its deterioration rate. High-Quality breads—or any food that is free of preservatives—will not keep for extended periods and will usually show signs of mould within three days of purchase.
If your family does not eat much bread, you may wish to purchase a fresh organic loaf, slice it and divide into small portions to freeze. This enables you to take out just a few slices each day or so.
8. Which Flours?
Most of our foods contain refined white wheat flours, a simple carbohydrate which is so quickly metabolised that we become hungry again soon after we’ve eaten it. Through milling, the wheat germ and wheat bran are separated from the grain; what remains is used in white flour-based products. The steel rolling of flour gives it a poor gluten formation, so extra gluten from other sources must be added. At this stage in the processing, the constituents of white bread are considered to be similar to the glue pastes made from flour and water that you find in kindergartens. White flour products are also often high in sugar, salt and additives. These additives encourage us to eat larger quantities.
White flour can be replaced with the following alternatives which provide more nutrition and longer-lasting sustenance.
- Kamut flour is the ancient cousin of durum wheat and is not as refined or processed as the modern hybrid of wheat. It is more easily digested and therefore tolerated better by people with wheat allergies (but not by coeliac sufferers). It is also higher in protein and richer in almost every mineral than whole wheat flour.
- Spelt flour is also less refined. It has low allergenic properties and is highly nutritious, with more protein, amino acids, B vitamins and minerals than regular wheat.
- Gluten-free flours: Gluten is the elastic protein component of grain found in wheat, rye, triticale, spelt, kamut, barley and oats. A permanent intolerance of gluten results in damage to the intestines upon consumption. Gluten intolerance (coeliac disease) causes the body to perceive gluten as a toxin.
There are many gluten-free flours available in health food shops which can be used for baking. Some of these however have many additives, where possible please selct the highest quality that you can. A relatively new gluten-free flour to reach the market is coconut flour. This flour is low in digestible carbohydrates and is packed with fibre, meaning you feel full quicker.
Note: because gluten strengthens and binds dough during baking, recipes made with gluten-free flours will always be different from those containing wheat. (Please see the Sweets section in Lunchbox Solutions for some excellent gluten-free flour baking treats.)
9. Is “Wheat-free, Gluten-free” Really a Better Option?
Some people are quick to jump onto the gluten-free bandwagon because they have heard that these foods are healthy or that they help you to lose weight, yet neither of these assumptions are necessarily true.
Some gluten-free products are full of refined sugars, sweeteners and a host of additives. Like any other food purchase, the quality of the ingredients must be checked. As for losing weight, it is possible that people who go on gluten-free diets tend to eat less bread, pasta and other flour products, but if you simply switch from eating lots of wheat products to eating lots of gluten-free products you are NOT going to lose weight. Reducing all grains—in fact, reducing your intake of food in general—is critical for shedding weight. Eating more fruits and vegetables, good quality fats and proteins and increasing your level of exercise is also essential.
We choose to use gluten-free flours in our baking recipes because many people suffer from wheat sensitivity, which occurs when the body cannot completely digest and process a food. The resulting inflammation disrupts bodily functions, causing dozens of symptoms and potentially leading to coeliac disease. (Please see the Lunchbox Solutions Glossary for more information on wheat sensitivities, wheat allergies and coeliac disease.)
Note: When an item is labelled “gluten-free”, it will usually mean it is also wheat-free. If an item is labelled “wheat-free”, this does not necessarily mean it is gluten-free, although some people may be able to tolerate the oats or barley that may have been used instead.
10. Which breakfast cereals?
Most breakfast cereals—especially those marketed to children—are full of sugar and salt and heavily processed. If you are going to give your body the fuel it needs every day, you need to ensure that your breakfast contains good fats, good proteins and good carbohydrates.
The best way to do this is to make your own (in our next book, Breakfast Solutions, we’ll show you how). If you are going to buy breakfast cereal, be sure to invest in a high-quality brand that uses a range of organic whole grains, seeds and nuts.
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The “Less, Better, Best” Table of Grains & Flours
Now that you’ve got the overview of facts around breads, grains and flours, you might like this handy reference. Use the table below to easily begin replacing your “less than ideal” grains and flours with better (or best!) options…
|Less than Ideal||Better||Best|
|White flour||Whole wheat flour||Home-made gluten-free flour or coconut flour|
|White bread, English muffin||Whole wheat bread||Rye, spelt or gluten-free bread|
|Wheat-based cereal||Muesli with fresh fruit, nuts and yoghurt||Fermented mixed grain porridge|
|Wheat-based white pasta (most pastas)||Wholemeal pasta||Rice and millet, corn, vegetable or spelt pasta (gluten-free)|
|Scones (white flour), jam and cream||Scones (gluten-free flours) and organic jams and cream||Chocolate almond meal cake (wheat-free)|
|Shop-bought low fat (and therefore high sugar) muffin||Wholemeal muffin||Homemade gluten-free passionfruit and coconut muffin|
|Pre-made white bread sandwich with margarine||Rye bread salad sandwich no margarine||Salad with tuna, chicken or meat|
|Tortilla or burrito||Hard-shell taco||Extra meat filling and salad, no taco|
|Doughnuts, lamingtons or pastries||Fruit, a piece gluten-free bread with nut butter, muesli slice||Fruit and nuts|
|Pasta dish||Bolognaise sauce with rice||Bolognaise sauce with sautéed vegetables|
|Couscous||White rice||Brown rice|
|Jasmine/white rice||Basmati rice||Brown/wild rice|
Click here to get a free PRINTABLE version of our “Less, Better, Best!” table to put on your fridge or pantry door, or share with your friends! It’s a great reference to improve your health and the health of your families.
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From the desk of…
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
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