DR. BETTIE: The Whole Grain and Nothing But the Grain

DR. BETTIE: The Whole Grain and Nothing But the Grain

Welcome to Dr. Bettie’s Corner, your local expert in nutrition, fitness, and health! This is a bimonthly forum where we attempt to address Woman-focused topics of interest.
We welcome your suggestions & questions! Please contact us with yours.


The Whole Grain and Nothing But the Grain

One of our athletes asked recently why many of us were raised on white rice and other refined grains when there appears to be much better alternatives out there.  So I thought I would take a quick look at the history of refined grains in America and the benefits of whole grains for runners.  I was raised in the south on sandwiches made of Wonder Bread, the quintessential bleached-white sliced sandwich bread.  In the 1930s, Wonder Bread was the darling of the culinary world.  It was one of the first sliced breads and its whiteness was seen as an indication of its cleanliness and purity: signs that it had been manufactured by a machine rather than dirty human hands.  Indeed, Wonder Bread and other refined white grains like it were signs of the future! Not to mention they were fast and convenient! Remember those fun TV dinners? Oh wait, did someone say nutrition?! Health? Glycemic index?  Perhaps these were not on the forefront of our parents’ and grandparents’ minds when they were caught up in the excitement of these new time-saving foods.

So let’s talk about whole grains.  When you take a grain such as wheat- which you use for bread- or rice in it’s whole form, it is full of vitamins and minerals.  When you start to refine that grain (grind and/or bleach the wheat for flour or strip the rice) you begin to lose some of the nutrition.  On the other hand, you also make it easier for the human body to digest.  Some grains are tough on the body and if we ingest them in their natural form they would go right through us and we would not get a lot of the nutrition anyway.  So a little refinement is okay.  But the further away we get from the natural state of the grain, i.e. the less “whole” the grain is, the less nutrition we are getting.

Let’s take a look at this interesting study that was done with obese adolescents with oatmeal in order to compare instant oatmeal and steel-cut oats.  To make steel-cut oats the oats are sliced a couple of times so that the oats can cook, however, the the structure of the oat kernel is maintained.  Instant oats are more processed.  However, the food’s calories, fiber and carbohydrates are the same.  Both groups of adolescents were given the same amount of food, but the group given instant oatmeal saw a much higher rise in blood sugar than the steel-cut oats group and were hungrier a few hours later.  This difference was caused only by the form of the food that was ingested, not the actual food itself!  So it may be worth it to take the extra time to make those steel-cut oats in the morning!

What about shopping for breads, cereals and other grains?  Look for whole grain cereals that have some fiber and protein.  The fiber and protein help slow the digestion process.  Just because bread is brown does not mean it is not overly processed.  Read the labels and make sure it is made with “whole wheat” flour and not “enriched” flour.  And don’t be afraid to try other varieties of whole grain breads such as buckwheat, rye and oat.  Peanut butter or any other nut butter on a slice of whole grain bread makes a great breakfast or post run snack.  Pick whole grain pastas and rice over white versions.  They contain more fiber to fill you up and additional nutrients and B vitamins.  However, if you are looking for a quick source of energy that can be digested quickly, white pasta may be a good choice.

We’ve come a long way from TV dinners and the Wonder Bread craze of the 1930s. It seems like we’ve almost come full circle.  From our grandparents’ generation spending hours in the kitchen preparing meals from scratch, to our parents’ generation striving for convenience, and now it’s our turn where we try to find the balance between convenience and good health while still appreciating time in the kitchen and where our food comes from.  We are lucky to have so many different type of grains to choose from, each with their own unique nutritional benefits.  Have fun experimenting and trying them and let us know if your find a favorite new recipe!