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Monday, February 8, 2010

Whole Grains: Mystery Solved!

So it seems that I've created some label-reading monsters out there! Which is great, I'm not complaining. By reading food labels, you're hopefully starting to understand calorie counts, portion sizes and all the nutrition (or lack thereof!) that's in the food you're eating. I read the labels for everything -- if I read something bad, I still may eat it. I just like to know what I'm putting in!

Anyway, you're starting to ask some questions, too, which is also great! One I've gotten a lot recently has to do with whole grain, whole wheat and the whole food theory in general. More specifically, I've been asked, "if whole grain flour/bread has the same calories as white flour/bread, then why can't we just eat the white one? Isn't it just calories in, calories out?"

Here's the short answer:
1. Whole grains help stabilize blood sugar
2. Whole grains keep you feeling fuller, longer

How? Well, there are very long, very boring explanations for all this, but I'm going to put it into my own words. Basically, as your body digests carbohydrates (beginning with chewing!), it converts it into sugars (energy) that are absorbed into your bloodstream. If this conversion and absorption happens very quickly, your blood sugar spikes....then crashes. If this absorption happens slowly, your blood sugar remains stable.

A grain is made up of bran (or fiber), germ and endosperm. The bran is on the outside, the germ contains the nutrients, and the endosperm is the starchy part. Your body really has to work hard to digest the fiber and the germ to get to the endosperm. But processed foods (like white flour) are basically the starchy endosperm that's been stripped of the bran and germ. Therefore, they are converted to sugar and absorbed into the blood stream quite quickly. In fact, your body processes the sugars in a piece of white bread much like a piece of cake! Ever wonder why you're always hungry? You eat white bread or other junk food, then an hour later (or less), you want to eat again. That's because your body has very quickly processed and used up what you put into it. However, the whole grain slows things down considerably....

The whole grain has all three parts, so it takes your body longer to digest, convert the sugar and carry it to your blood stream. You feel fuller longer and you don't have the negative effects of your blood sugar rapidly rising and falling! Staying fuller longer ultimately means you'll eat less, which is why whole grains are recommended for weight loss.

Plus, you're getting all that great fiber! Fiber (the bran layer) of food comes in two forms -- soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber (found in fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains) dissolves in water, and is what weighs down your stomach and makes you feel full. Insoluble fiber (often found in the peels of foods and whole grains) is bulky and helps food pass through your intestines. Some experts believe it also helps block some of the fat that your body takes from food -- I like that theory! Yay fiber! You also get a lot of fiber from fruits and vegetables. I like to aim for at least 30 grams of fiber a day.

So to make a long story short (too late!), whole grains are better for your body -- both inside and out! Not only do they help your dieting efforts by making you feel full, but they help keep your blood sugar stable and your digestive tract running smoothly.

Now that you're ready to switch from white bread to whole wheat, here are some things to remember. Back to the label reading! Wheat and whole wheat are not always the same. In order to be considered a whole grain, it must have the three parts (bran, germ and endosperm). So make sure you see the word "whole" or look for this seal. Also, foods high in fiber (like bran cereals), may not contain the other parts of the grain -- so while you're getting the good fiber, you're missing some of the value of the whole grain.

If you have anything to add, either from your own experience or a medical background, please feel free to leave a comment! The more knowledge we have, the more successful we'll be. In the meantime, I'm going to go make some popcorn -- it is a whole grain, after all!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of book sales through the end of February will be donated to the relief efforts in Haiti.

3 comments:

Jessica said...

Popcorn makes AWESOME breakfast cereal! Just pour a little milk over it and add a sprinkle of sugar -- VOILA! Fiber and calcium in a cereal you can feel good about. ;)

The Svelte Gourmet said...

Now THAT is something I never thought of...I'll have to try it! Thanks! I like my popcorn alongside fresh summer tomatoes...but I guess I'll have to wait for that.

Dayna said...

Oh, how I love this post! It's so nice to know that there are comrades out there! I hope lots of people will read this.
When my girls and I bake with our freshly-ground wheat or other grains, some folks get scared and run away. That's because they haven't yet tried one of our sweet potato/whole wheat chocolate chip cookies sweetened with sucanat! :-)

Appropriately, as I was reading this, two of my daughters were humming next to me, not even realizing that they had added theme music to this beautiful post.

Thanks again!

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