In the last few years, there have been many debates, opinions, and some research on the subject of whether whole grains are
good or bad. Many people have chosen to avoid eating grain all together rather than do the research to find out why grain might be detrimental to our health. Although grains are generally the primary topic in these debates, many of the characteristics of grain
can also be applied to all legumes and nuts. In my previous post, I talked about the phytic acid in seeds (including legumes, rice, and nuts) that nature provides as a means of protecting the seeds from trying to grow in conditions that they would not survive,
an how phytase (an enzyme) is activated to break down the phytic acid
when warmth and moisture provide ideal growing conditions. For us to understand how all of this works, it is also important to know the parts of a seed and how they work together. This also helps provide an understanding of what we are eating when we
buy white bread, white rice, or other processed grains. My intent in this article, and others to come, are to spark your concern, and or curiosity, enough that you will do some research on your own. The subjects that I will be presenting to you are extensive,
and a whole book might be written on each subject that would still not cover all of the available information.
I will not get into a detailed botanical explanation of how a seed is produced, or even every miniscule part of a seed – even
though it is quite interesting. For our purposes, it is important to know about only 3 parts of a seed – the seed coating, the endosperm, and the embryo. The seed coating is the part of the seed that protect everything inside from the elements and from damage.
The thickness of the seed coating varies depending on the seed. Seeds with a thicker coating must be soaked longer for the seed coating to be penetrated, and germination will take longer than for seeds with a thinner coating. For our purposes, this is the
reason that legumes (beans) require a longer soaking time than most grains. The seed coating in grains is called the bran which contains important antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber.
The next important layer in a seed is the endosperm. This is the area of the seed that nutrients are stored that will be provided to the embryo of the seed when it begins to grow. This is also the part of the seed that is protected by
the phytic acid so that nutrients aren’t released until growing conditions are optimum. The endosperm contains starchy carbohydrates, and some proteins, vitamins and minerals which vary with the seed type.
The germ, or embryo, is the part of the plant that, if fertilized, will sprout into a new plant when the nutrients are released from the endosperm. The germ of the seed contains B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
So why do we need to know all of this botanical mumbo gumbo? The reason is that by knowing about all of this we can better
understand what happens to processed grains such as those in white bread, white flour, white rice, etc. It also helps us to understand how processed grains can be harmful to our health.
Refining grains normally removes the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm. Without the bran and the germ, about 25%
of the grain’s protein is lost, along with at least seventeen key nutrients. Processors to add back some of vitamins and minerals to “enrich” refined grains, but the nutrients added are generally chemically manufactured and not natural.
So let’s take this thought to the next level.
If only the endosperm of the grain, which is primarily starch, is used in white flours and breads that means that these products
are high in starch regardless of any nutrients that may have been added back to “enrich” them. Our bodies process starch into sugar. This knowledge causes more questions and more that I have not only researched but tested. Many children are given a lot of
white bread in sandwiches, PB&J, etc. In recent years, diabetes in children has increased. Research has shown that increased starches, i.e., sugar, overload the liver that cannot handle the load to cleanse the blood, and eventually causes malfunction of the
pancreas causing diabetes which is an inability to convert sugar to energy. Those of us that have been around for a while know that diabetes in children in past years was rare. Today it is quite common. Studies report that in 1985 1 to 2 percent of children
with diabetes had Type 2. By 1995 the number was at 17%, and more recently the count has risen to 30 to 40 percent of children with diabetes now have type 2.
In my own experience, I learned a year or so ago that my daughter, 45 year old, had been diagnosed with diabetes. At this point,
I have no control over her diet, but I started making all of her bread. Some are whole grain and some part whole grain, but all are baked after a long fermentation. She has told me that she has been able to control her blood sugar and avoid insulin shots by
eating only the bread that I give her and avoiding any store bought breads. One thing that I hadn’t mentioned previously is that long fermentation reduces the amount of sugars in grain. The reason for this is that the growing yeast uses the sugars for food
thus reducing natural sugars in the flour.
At this point, some of you may be thinking, “I don’t have time to bake bread, especially long ferment bread. I buy whole grain
bread from the store. So I am supplying my family with whole grain bread”. I can only caution you to carefully read labels. Bread can be labeled as whole grain if it has any whole grain in it. This can mean nothing more than a sprinkling of grain on the top
of the bread. The darker color of many “whole grain” breads is achieved with coloring and is not natural.
So I believe that the question as to whether whole grains are good or bad depends on the way that they are used. In my next
post, I will go a little deeper into some of the processing of “healthy” grains and how the activation of phytase can differ from one grain to another.