The Scoop on Grains: Nutritionally Speaking

Photo courtesy Mike & Carol Werner

Over the last several weeks I’ve shared my journey with using whole grains and a little bit about how whole grains have been used throughout history. This week I want to briefly discuss the nutritional benefits of whole grains in general.

Synergy


Whole grains contain protein, fiber, healthy fats, and a generous amount of vitamins and minerals. These components work together synergistically. Any one of these taken alone is not going to benefit us the way it would as a whole, and may actually be detrimental. The more I learn about “whole foods” the more I realize that anytime we try to “improve” or alter food from the way God made it, there’s a price to be paid.

Sue Gregg explains the importance of synergism this way:
While whole grains are primarily carbohydrates we must reorganize our thinking. Foods with complex structures should not be put into one nutrient category. This again emphasizes the value of synergism-the effect on the body nutrients have when working together. For example, the value of B-vitamins is enhanced in the presence of vitamin E. The multitude of interactions between food nutrients is intricate and complex. The result is that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.
When we begin to try to isolate different nutrients and separate them from the whole, we lose out on the interaction between the parts, with detrimental results. In addition, researchers continue to discover new nutrients and new interactions between them all the time, which can’t possibly be replicated in refined grains.
Anatomy of a grain
All types of grain (wheat, rice, oats, barley, etc.) consist of three parts: endosperm, germ, and bran. The endosperm contains carbohydrates, protein, and several vitamins. The germ contains vitamin E, other antioxidants, B vitamins (including folic acid), iron, zinc, and other minerals, and polyunsaturated fats. The bran contains fiber, antioxidants, many phytonutrients and minerals, and phytates (which we’ll learn more about in a minute when we discuss soaking grains).

Processed “white” flour (or rice, or any other processed grain) has had both the germ and the bran removed. What remains is essentially straight starch, which spikes your blood sugar and is stored as fat. Even store-bought “whole wheat” flour consists of just part of the bran and the endosperm. The highly nutritious wheat germ has been removed.

As I’ve mentioned before, the moment a grain is broken open it begins to oxidize. Within 72 hours, over 90% of the nutrients are gone. So even what’s left behind is depleted by the time it reaches the grocery store shelf. A friend of mine once quipped that her kids would likely get more nutrition from licking the floor than eating refined grain products. In other words, the dirt on the floor would have more nutritional value! Gross, but sadly probably true.

Whole grains are very filling and satisfying because of their high energy value (i.e. calories). This does NOT necessarily mean, though, that “bread is fattening”.  Complex carbohydrates are burned at a rate of 25% during digestion, compared to 3% for fats. The accusation may stick for refined grains, but not whole grains.

Using Variety

Because of the prevalence of grain-related allergies, I’ve chosen to use a wide variety of grains in my cooking. There’s some speculation that overeating one grain repeatedly can trigger intolerance and allergy. Historically, though, different cultures have relied on one local grain exclusively without negative reactions. It seems likely then that the issue is not the particular grain, but using it in a refined form. Another thing to consider is that our bodies are likely to adapt best to the grains of our ancestors. So, Asians tend to thrive on rice, etc. It’s wise to consider your family’s ancestry when choosing grains. Many of us have a mixed ancestry, so avoiding a dependence on any one grain and using a variety is probably a wise choice.

Soaking 

I’ve mentioned before that soaking or sprouting grains is considered by many a wise choice. Since grains are basically seeds they contain phytates, enzyme inhibitors, and anti-nutrients meant to protect them until they’re ready to sprout and keep them intact on a trip through the digestive system (think about how some seeds are spread…by birds and other animals who eat them and “deposit” them, intact, in another location). Not only does this mean that when eating unsoaked grains we’re not able to benefit from many of the nutrients, but they may actually inhibit other enzyme activity in our digestive system, decreasing what we’re able to absorb from other food as well.

Soaking the grain in an acidic medium like buttermilk before using mimics the effect of sprouting, breaking down the phytates and other anti-nutrients and making the good stuff more readily available. It also has the added benefit of “predigesting” the grain, breaking down hard to digest starches and tannins,  as well as the gluten, which is particularly difficult for many. This makes it easier for our bodies to absorb the many beneficial nutrients and makes the grains easier to digest overall.

In the course of writing this series, I discovered that one of my favorite real food bloggers, Katie at Kitchen Stewardship, has been doing a very comprehensive series on the whole issue of soaking grains, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I refer you to her excellent posts

Grain Varieties 
Different grains work for different purposes. A common way to classify them is by their gluten content: gluten-free, low-gluten, or high-gluten. Gluten is a protein that develops elasticity when kneaded. This makes high-gluten grains like hard wheat ideal for yeast breads because this elasticity helps trap the gas formed by the yeast,  giving rise and lightness of texture. Unfortunately, gluten is difficult for many to digest, but soaking the grain can help alleviate this and allow some with gluten sensitivity to still enjoy these grains.

Quick breads without yeast such as muffins, pancakes, biscuits, cakes, and cookies, do well with low-gluten grains or soft wheat. If high-gluten grains are used in these, they cause the texture to become tough and dense.

There’s much more that could be said about grains in general, but this quick crash-course gives some solid background knowledge for you. Next time, I’ll begin focusing on one variety of grain at a time, discussing it’s particular characteristics and giving suggestions for use. I’ll begin with the one we’re all most familiar with: wheat. What role does wheat play in our health? What’s the difference between the various types of wheat available? What’s the best way to use it and how should it be stored?

In the meantime, make sure you’ve read the rest of this series and enjoy a few of my favorite soaked grain recipes (most of which can be made with a simple household blender):

  •  My Journey Part 1
  • My Journey Part 2
  • How Did We Get Here?
  • Bread Baking With Fresh Ground Flour 101 (my step-by-step tutorial for how I make my bread)
  • Bread Baking Resources…Getting Started
  • My Nutrimill
  • Simply Scrumptious Blender Oat Pancakes
  • Delicious Baked Oatmeal
  • Simple Blender Waffles
  • Super Simple & Flavorful Brown Rice
  • Popcorn Cornbread 

  • Sources for most of the information in this post are Sue Gregg’s Breakfasts and Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.

    The Scoop on Grains: How Did We Get Here?

     

     

    Photo courtesy Mike & Carol Werner

    Over the last two weeks, I’ve briefly shared my own journey when it comes to the way I choose to use and serve whole grains for my family. I explained how I learned about the health risks of store-bought flour, the superiority of fresh-ground flour, and the benefits of soaking whole grains before using them.

    This week I want to discuss the history of whole grains. Next week we’ll dive into discussing the nutritional characteristics of whole grains in general. Then, we’ll zero in on specific types of grains and how they differ, beginning with wheat. My plan was to discuss both the history and nutritional information this week but there’s just too much information that I don’t want to leave out, so I’m breaking it into two posts!

    An ancient grain mill in Capernaum

     

    Grains of various types have been a staple in nearly every culture since ancient times. Whether it’s rice in the east, corn or millet in Africa, or oats in Europe, grains have been a mainstay in diets around the world for millennia. Historically, most world religions have had a goddess of grain. Ceres, from which our word cereal is derived, was the Roman goddess of agriculture. Ancient grains didn’t bear much resemblance to the highly processed, hastily prepared grain products most of us consume today however. A majority of our ancestors, not having access to fast-acting yeasts like we do today, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into various porridges, breads, cakes, and casseroles, and they knew nothing of the mechanically separated, refined grains that are so common now.

    The wheat kernel, as well as other grains, was perfectly designed by God to store the nutrients contained within. Once the whole kernel is broken open, as it is when it’s milled, all the nutrients immediately begin to oxidize. Within 72 hours, 90% of the nutrients are virtually gone. This is why we refer to “daily bread”…it was necessary to make a new supply each day as it didn’t keep well for more than a day or two. Often, the grain was soaked before cooking. Sourdough breads are just one example of commonly used methods of soaking or fermenting grains before yeast was commercially available.

     

    Early 1900s grain mill
    (photo credit www.historiccookingschool.com)

     

    Prior to the 1900s, flour was milled locally…either in the home or in local community mills…and baked daily. Only enough flour was milled at a time to meet that day’s needs. In the 1920s new technology allowed millers to separate the wheat components. Removing the germ, germ oil, and bran allowed the remaining “flour” to be stored indefinitely, and the “byproducts” (the most nutritious parts!) could be sold for even more profit as cattle feed (news flash: cattle were NOT designed to digest grain, they were designed to digest grass…but that’s another whole subject!). Similar processes developed for various other grains (“white” rice, pearled barley, etc.).

    This advance in technology seemed to benefit nearly everyone: large roller mills could produce huge volumes of flour in a short amount of time to meet consumer demand. Not only was it more efficient but it resulted in more profit for the mill owners and cheap feed for cattle owners. The resulting flour lasted much longer in storage and in the final baked product, which was convenient for consumers.

    Soon, however, cases of beriberi and pellagra, both caused by a vitamin B deficiency, began to drastically increase. The new industry’s “solution” was to “enrich” the grain products by adding back synthetic versions of 4 of the nearly 30 vitamins removed in the milling process. From there, the process has continued to snowball as technology has advanced, allowing us to create grain products that are “shelf stable” (i.e. don’t go bad because they are nutritionally devoid…there’s nothing in them left to go bad!), and quick and easy. This is what many consumers want: convenience.

    So, has the convenience and increased productivity made possible with this technology been worth the cost? We’ve briefly looked at some of the detrimental results to our health caused by these methods. Next week we’ll look at the nutritional characteristics of whole grains and how the refining process affects them in more detail. In the meantime, don’t miss these related posts:

    Sources for most of the information in this post are Sue Gregg’s Breakfasts and Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.

    The Scoop on Grains: My Journey Part 2

    Photo credit Mike & Carol Werner

    Last week, I wrote about our family’s journey with whole grains. I told you how I started out making all our bread with store-bought whole wheat flour and a bread machine and eventually began to learn about the health benefits of freshly ground, soaked flour and the wide variety of grains available besides wheat. I shared how I began to make “blender batter” recipes that offered a way to reap the health benefits of soaked grains  (which I briefly explained) while I saved for a grain mill.

    For Mother’s Day, 2004, I was finally able to purchase my Nutrimill and begin the adventure of buying whole grains in bulk for most of my family’s bread and baked goods. I’ve had my Nutrimill for nearly 7 years now and I’ve been very happy with it. I wrote more about it’s features a year or so ago if you’re interested in more details. The difference in the fresh-ground flour and the store-bought whole wheat flour was incredible, both in flavor and texture!

    L'Equip 760200 NutriMill Grain Mill

    I began to experiment with grains like spelt and kamut. Having the mill literally opened up a whole new world of options for me. Now I could make baked goods from not just wheat but all kinds of other grains: familiar options like rice, less familiar options like barley and millet, and even beans and popcorn (if you haven’t tried my Popcorn Cornbread recipe yet, you must!). This was when I began to really learn about the different types of whole grains, their health benefits, and what could be done with each of them.

    At first, I continued using my bread machine cookbook recipe. By now I was using two bread machines so I could make two loaves at a time, and my family was growing. It became apparent pretty quickly that the ability to make large batches of dough at once that could be made into multiple loaves or split up for different uses would be a timesaver and simplify my routine greatly, so I began researching heavy duty mixers.

    Eventually, for Mother’s Day in 2007, I was able to get a Bosch Universal Plus Mixer with Blender. I got a heckuva deal on the old style as they cleared them out for the new redesign.  Now I could make several loaves of bread, dinner rolls, hamburger buns, or any of a variety of items out of one big batch of dough, which didn’t take any longer to make than a small batch!

    Since then, I’ve found recipes that work well for our family that have become staples and I’m always learning new ways to use a variety of freshly ground, soaked or sprouted whole grains to make all kinds of delicious baked goods and dishes for our table! In coming weeks I’ll share much of what I’ve learned with you, beginning next week with some background on whole grains in general and then moving on to the one most familiar to most of us: wheat.

    In the meantime, you may enjoy browsing these past posts:

    Linked with Tuesday Twister at Gnowfglins.

    The Scoop on Grains: My Journey Part 1

    Photo credit Mike & Carol Werner

    Since I recently received my latest grain order and have been reorganizing my pantry and stock of grain and other staples, I thought it would be fun to share what I’ve learned about whole grains over the last eight or nine years in my quest to provide healthy food for my family: the role they play in our health, the variety of different types, and how to properly store, prepare, and use them.

    I’m convinced that the epidemic of gluten and wheat intolerance, yeast overgrowth, and many other health issues we see today is due largely to the overconsumption of refined grains, and the overuse of wheat in general. I know that even in my own family, if we eat out or splurge on store-bought products too much, my husband especially suffers for it. He feels much better when he eats very little wheat, and then only my homemade breads, cookies, etc. By feeding my family fresh-ground and sometimes soaked, whole grains and using a variety rather than just wheat, I’m hoping to spare my children from the many health issues that stem from the misuse and overuse of grains, wheat and corn in particular.

    When I began this journey, all I knew was that “whole wheat” was better than white bread, and I reasoned that homemade must be better than store-bought since it wouldn’t contain all the preservatives. So, I bought a bread machine, a bread machine cookbook, and some whole wheat flour and began making all my own bread. It took some experimenting, but I finally adapted a recipe in the cookbook I bought that worked well for me.

    A couple of years later, I stumbled onto Sue Gregg’s cookbooks and ordered one to use to help me teach my kids (it was just the Dancer and Karate Kid at this point) how to make simple lunches and learn basic cooking skills. I was fascinated with the bits of health information in the cookbook, the pamphlet that came with it, and on her website, and ended up splurging on her whole cookbook set.

    This was the first I’d ever heard of the benefits of grinding my own grain. After more research, I became convinced it was worth investing in a grain mill and started saving for one.

    Do you realize that a grain of wheat (wheat berry) begins to oxidize and lose its nutrients the second it’s broken open and exposed to the air? Within 72 hours, up to 98% of the nutrients are GONE! How likely do you think it is that bag of whole wheat flour sitting on the grocery store shelf was milled less than 72 hours ago? They “enrich” it by adding back in four of the twenty-six original nutrients…but the synthetic forms of these four are actually detrimental to our bodies.

    I was also very interested in learning more about soaking grains, which is also mentioned in Sue’s books. In a nutshell, whole grains contain phytic acid, a substance that binds itself to key minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and prevents their absorption in your intestinal tract. As I mentioned earlier, many people have trouble digesting gluten also. Soaking the grain in an acid medium like yogurt, buttermilk, or even water with lemon juice or vinegar added before using will neutralize the phytic acid while also breaking down the gluten and starches that can be difficult to digest. It also serves to soften the grain, making your baked goods lighter in texture. Not to mention, it saves time by breaking the process into two shorter steps! Fermenting (like in sourdough) or sprouting the grain achieves similar results. I hope to go into greater detail on the soaking process in the near future.

    In the meantime, we began to do what we could. I soaked our rice before cooking and we experimented with recipes such as Blender Oat Pancakes and Baked Oatmeal (both of which are staples in our family now), which offer some of the benefits of soaked whole grains, even for those who don’t own a mill. I adapted most of my recipes to use whole wheat flour, honey, and sucanat and we eliminated white flour and sugar completely.

    I’ll stop there for now. Watch for the rest of my story in the next week or two, and then I’ll go into more detail about the whole process and the different grains and ways to use them.

    Click here to read Part 2 of my journey.

    In the meantime, you might enjoy these past posts and recipes. The recipes utilize the soaking process but don’t require any extra equipment…you’ll need a regular blender for the pancakes and waffles, but that’s it:

    Click here to read My Journey Part Two.


    Linked with the Homemaking Link-Up at Raising Homemakers and Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

    Simple Soaked Popcorn Cornbread

    Simple Soaked Popcorn Cornbread from Home With Purpose

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    There’s nothing quite like fresh, hot cornbread to go with dishes like Good Old Fashioned Pinto Beans, Too Easy Crockpot Chili, Talerina, and more. This cornbread is made with freshly ground, non-GMO organic popcorn and soaked to break down antinutrients and maximize the nutritional value.  

    It’s also very quick and simple to make – just about as easy as boxed cornbread mix and SO much healthier! I prefer to slather on some homemade butter too. Regular cornmeal will work just fine if it’s all you have, but the popcorn makes it especially yummy!
    Ingredients
    1 ½ cup buttermilk (or thinned yogurt or kefir)
    3 eggs
    ¼ cup honey or maple syrup (or more to taste)
    ¼ cup coconut oil or butter
    3 cup cornmeal — freshly ground organic popcorn
    1 tbsp baking powder
    1 tbsp Real Salt or other natural sea salt
    Instructions

    Grind the popcorn in your mill, then combine the resulting cornmeal and yogurt/buttermilk in a mixing bowl. Cover and allow the mixture to sit for at least 6-8 hours, preferably overnight. 

    After soaking, blend eggs, maple syrup, and oil together in a bowl or 2 qt measuring cup in order given and combine with the soaked cornmeal/buttermilk mixture. The soaked mixture will be thick, so take your time and make sure you mix it all in well.

    Add the baking powder and salt. 

    Pour into a greased pan (the original recipe called for a greased 9×13 pan, but I almost always use my large cast iron skillet).  

    Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until a knife comes clean out of the center .

    Enjoy!

    **Be sure to visit my Kitchen page for my entire “Scoop on Grains” series, information on the health benefits of soaking your grains, and more healthy grain recipes!**



    I’m linking this recipe up with:

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    The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. Ever. Really.

    I know what you’re thinking.

    Cookies made with whole wheat and honey? Ew.

    Well.

    I dare you to try these. They’re THE BEST!

    One disclaimer: Store-bought whole wheat flour tends to have a bitter flavor, so I can’t vouch for how it will work, but fresh-ground? Oh. yeah. SO good.

    This recipe is my modification of the “Ranger Cookie” recipe in the Breadbeckers’ cookbook. I usually make a triple batch, which fills my mixer completely. I bake about half and freeze the other half for later.

    Served with a tall glass of milk, these make a fantastic breakfast snack. In fact, the frozen dough makes a pretty good snack in and of itself.

    So.

    Here it is:

    1 cup (2 sticks) Butter
    1/2 cup Honey
    1 cup Sucanat
    2 Eggs
    1 tsp Vanilla
    2 1/2 cups freshly ground Soft White Pastry Flour
    1 tsp Baking Soda
    1/2 tsp Baking Powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 1/2 cups Rolled Oats
    1/2-1 cup Chopped Nuts (to taste…I use walnuts and plenty of ’em)
    Chocolate Chips…oh, I don’t know, I think I use about 2 cups.

    Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter, honey, and sucanat until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Combine flour, rolled oats, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix well. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips; mix well. Drop dough by heaping tbsp (or use a nifty cookie scoop…can’t live without mine!) onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet, move to wire cooling rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered. The original recipe says this makes 2 dozen large cookies, but I get several dozen small cookies out of one batch.

    *If you must use conventional ingredients, all purpose flour can be substituted for the fresh ground, white sugar for the honey (double the amount called for), and brown sugar for the Sucanat. I can’t vouch for the results, though, and I wouldn’t eat them quite as freely as we do if they contained refined ingredients.*)

    Deliciousness.