Are you having grains three times a day – Breakfast, lunch and dinner? Are your meals mainly wheat or rice based? Grains are hard on digestion and being acidic in nature, they can cause health issues in the long run. Overeating grains means we are eating less of fruits and vegetables. Read on to know all about grains and how you can bring diversity to your diet.
What are grains?
Technically, cereals or grains as we commonly know it are seeds of the grass family. Grains are grown in huge quantities all over the world and are the primary source of calories today. Unlike fresh produce like fruits or vegetables, grains can be harvested, dried and stored for a long period. Grains are also high on the list of import/export in every country of the world leading to high availability of grains even in the remote areas where they weren’t traditionally grown.This has led to changing of traditional dietary patterns of populations across the globe.
When did humans start eating grains?
It is thought that humans only started eating grains when the hunter-gatherer lifestyle gave way to agriculture – maybe only for the past 10,000 years or so. This means that for most of human history, wedid not consume grains. Now grains are a staple food in almost every country of the world and the main source of calories worldwide. The human body is not adapted to eat grains in the quantities we are eating today. The green revolution which started during the middle of the 20th century and brought in high yielding varieties of grains and mechanized agriculture has changed the food habits of people.
Mono grain based diets of today
The easy availability of grains has made the use of grains ubiquitous. As a result, most of us are eating grains three times a day. A typical south Indian meal pattern could be dosa or idlis for breakfast, followed by rice-sambar for lunch and rotis or rice - sambar for dinner. A north Indian may have paranthas or bread for breakfast, followed by rotis or rice for lunch and dinner.
Also we are primarily eating one or two grains only. For eg: Do you know which grain you consume when you eat these - roti, naan, bhature, biscuits, bread, pasta, cake, muffin? The answer is wheat. It is used as the base for these products in the form of aata, maida or sooji.
Thus, our diets have a high proportion of grains & low proportion of fresh foods consisting of fruits or vegetables.
Grains are heavy on the digestive system
It takes more energy from the body to digest grains as compared to digesting fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds, sprouts. Hence, if the number of grain based meals are reduced to one or two from the existing three most people eat, one is likely to feel more energetic.
Also, digestion of grains leads to an acidic residue in our body. We remain healthy & illness free when the body’s optimum acid-alkaline balance is maintained. Most grains are acidic in nature, there are a few such as millets & amaranth that are known to be alkaline.
Grains are primarily consumed for their starch element. But our requirement for starches can be met by consuming tubers – potatoes, yams, tapioca too. They are easier on the body compared to grains.
Refining of grains
Rice and wheat can be easily polished and hence stored for a long time since even insects do not want to eat them in refined form. A grain consists of 3 main parts:
Bran – rich in fibre
Endosperm – rich in protein (gluten), vitamins, starch
Germ – rich in protein, fat, vitamin B, vitamin E
The refining process of grains removes the bran and the germ leaving only the endosperm. This results in a loss of nutrition and fibre. A refined grain is starchier than the whole grain and results in fluctuation of sugar levels, weight gain and mood swings.
Modern day wheat – what is wrong with it?
The wheat we eat today is hybridized to be pest resistant and have more starch and gluten in it compared to its ancestor. This genetic change makes modern wheat much harder to break down and digest which can lead to immune reactions and inflammation.
Wheat is usually ground into flour before consumption. In ancient times, wheat grains were crushed between 2 large stones to make flour. The value of stone grinding is that the grain is ground slowly & it remains unheated, hence preserves the nutritive value lost on exposure to high heat in modern refining methods. Also, all parts of the wheat grain are ground into the flour, thus retaining all nutritive value.
In modern refining methods, steel roller mills have superseded stone grinding. These mills grind wheat many times faster. But they remove the bran & germ from the grain, leading to loss in wheat’s nutritive value. Bran and germ are removed as they are high in oil content, which reduces the shelf life of flour.
So, not only the wheat grain but the way we consume it today is a problem.
Nature provided us a wide variety of grains to choose from – millets like jowar, bajra, ragi etc which were local to a region. Millets need less water for growing. Since there are many varieties of millets grown regionally, they are hardy and resistant to pest attacks. They are less refined and have a superior nutritional profile. However, nowadays millets have been replaced by rice or wheat in most households. Have you tried any of your favourite recipes like rotis, dosa biryani, khichdi with millets? By heavily eating only one or two varieties of grains viz rice and wheat, we are denying our body the nutrition from other types of grains.
So, what is the right way to consume grains?
Here are a few things you can take care of to eat grains in the most healthful manner:
Reduction in quantity: Stick to eating grains not more than once or twice a day. You can also eat a fresh big veggie salad before your meal thereby decreasing the amount of grain consumed.
Eating mindfully: Since it is hard on digestion, it is better to chew the grain thoroughly before swallowing. This reduces the load on the stomach. .
Try to be grain-free when you are unwell. Grains are acidic in nature, when unwell body needs to restore the acid-alkaline balance. Grains take more time & energy by the body to digest, when unwell you should save energy for body to focus on healing rather than digestion.
Stick to unpolished whole grains: Avoid using refined grains since they are devoid of nutrition and also cause you to over eat.
Whole grain flours: Keep intake of grain flours to the minimum. Prefer whole wheat flour to refined flour...prefer whole wheat bread to white bread. Look for an atta chakki to source your flour, look for options to procure whole wheat bread.
Learn ways to make your favourite grain recipes using millets. Ragi can be used to make delicious dosas and idlis, jowar and bajra can be used to make rotis. Millets can be used in baking too.
Avoid mixing grains. A multigrain bread or roti takes more time to digest than a single grain roti.
Learn to make grain free alternatives like a besan chilla, amaranth upma etc
Sprouting: Grains can be soaked overnight and sprouted. This not only improves digestibility but also improves the nutrient availability. Try sprouted ragi.
Grains have come to occupy a prominent part in our daily diet. We must focus on including more variety in our food in terms of easy-to-digest foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds, sprouts. Within grains also, we should add more variety to the grains we eat instead of overly consuming wheat & rice only.
7 Surprising Reasons to Give Up Wheat - byLeah Zerbe
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