To maintain a healthy diet, it is important to eliminate or at least greatly cut down on our consumption of starches. But grains? Really? Even the good ones? Well, though there are some things that are best just given up completely, there are alternatives that can be used now and then to round out our diets and satisfy those cravings. The good news is that as you continue to eat a healthier diet, changing your emphasis from starches and sugars to good proteins and fats, your cravings for unhealthy foods do decrease and in many cases disappear completely. In time, your body, recognizing that it is receiving the kinds of foods it really needs, happily shifts over to efficiently metabolizing the needed macronutrients and your cravings eventually vanish.
So what are some of our choices? For starters, the healthiest grain choice is the one which is the slowest to break down (convert to sugar) in the body. For example, if you want to eat oatmeal, whole oats, soaked and slightly fermented overnight would be the best, steel cut oats would be second best, and all the other types should be avoided. And, as mentioned in the blog on sabotage foods, eat your oatmeal with eggs, butter, or other good healthy fats and proteins so it converts to sugar more slowly in the body.
Second, be aware that what the label says and what the product actually is, are often two different things. An example of this is the term 100% Whole Grain. That’s more of a marketing term; it has nothing to do with reality. A simple way to explain this is, if it can’t be sprouted, it’s not a whole grain. A 100% whole grain noodle will not sprout into a pasta bush if planted. Neither can a slice of 100% whole grain bread sprout into a bread tree if planted. A whole grain is a seed. If it was a whole grain and then was overheated, or cooked, or ground, it will die and be incapable of sprouting. It’s no longer a whole grain—it’s a processed whole grain.
There are some gluten-free whole grains that are better than others because they contain more nutrients. They are super grains or super foods. These include teff, which comes in an ivory color and brown, quinoa (KEEN-wah ) which comes in black, red, and off-white, and amaranth which ranges in color from black to red to ivory.
Why am I mentioning the colors? The colors in food reflect nutrients from nature. If you have a grain with more than one color option, the darker, more colorful grains will have more nutrients than the more pale versions.
Rice is the single most-consumed grain in a lot of cultures. White rice is one of the fastest sugar-converters. Rice should be as dark as possible, keeping all the parts of the rice together. Choose black, dark brown, mahogany, red cargo, and wild rice. (Wild rice isn’t really a rice. It’s technically called a grass, but it’s found in the store in the same section as rice.) Lundberg , found in most health food stores, is a good brand for quality rice. It is available in a variety of dark colors.
One of the healthiest of all the grains is barley, because it converts to sugar in the body at such a slow rate. If you’re gluten-sensitive, search for heirloom varieties of barley such as Buffalo Barley from Goldmine Natural Foods. This company carries many of the heirloom grains. An heirloom grain is a grain which has not been hybridized beyond recognition, but rather, is in its original, natural state.
There are a few healthy noodles and pastas but generally the grains are so processed that there is little nutritional value remaining. Brown rice pasta sounds healthy, but it is actually one of the fastest sugar-converters of the pastas. Unfortunately, pastas, in general, are not a nutritious meal choice. However, there is a pasta made from quinoa, but, to make it a palatable texture that people like, corn has been added (a super-fast sugar-converter and a GMO food). Hopefully, more healthy alternatives will be available in the near future.
If you happen to be in the San Diego area, you can find pasta made out of ground up beans at the Hillcrest farmer’s market. Beans, though a starch, convert more slowly to sugar, so pasta made from beans would be the best choice—if you can find them.
An alternative to noodles made from grains is a kelp noodle from the Sea Tangle Company. It’s available in some health food stores and online from the Sea Tangle Company. The ingredients consist solely of extracts of seaweed. They take the part of the kelp which is used in yogurts and ice creams as a thickening agent (it’s called sodium alginate) and they make it into a noodle. It will not change its texture no matter how long it is cooked. It’s crispy and has a very mild taste. The texture is different from modern pastas but it is a healthy alternative. This kelp noodle can be put in salads, soups, stews, broths, coleslaw, etc.
Another option is the shirataki noodle used in many Japanese dishes. Miracle Noodle is the most popular brand, but there are other brands available. It comes from the konjac (elephant yam) root and does not contain starch as it is mostly a soluble fiber. This alternative has a different texture than we’re used to. Like most pastas, the taste comes from the ingredients you put on it. It’s very chewy and is an excellent base for carrying yummy sauces made from healthy vegetables, cream, cheeses, meats, etc.
Finally, when it comes to baking, healthy grains can be a challenge. There’s an excellent cookbook called The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook, by Elana Amsterdam. It contains recipes using almond flour instead of grain flour. Almonds are much better for you because, unlike grains, the almonds don’t turn right into sugar. They contain fat and protein. In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Dr. Weston A. Price found healthy populations that ate grains, but there was an absence of refined sugars and starches in their diets. Their grain came from heirloom seeds not from the over-hybridized seeds most breads and pastas are made from today. The grain was ground immediately before baking, rather than sitting on store shelves and growing rancid. They also soaked and sprouted their grain. Modern (especially western) populations have done a lot of harm to their bodies by eating too many grains sugars and alcohols. The big question here is based on what we learned from Pottenger’s Cats: what did you eat growing up? Were you breastfed? For how long? What did your parents and grandparents eat? Like the tribes that Dr. Price studied, if a person and the many generations before them ate a perfect diet and this food was what their healthy ancestors ate, then their body might do well with a similar amount of grain, prepared in the proper, traditional way.
Ideally we hope you use the grain alternatives information in this blog while increasing your consumption of healthy fats and proteins and the foods that your healthy ancestors enjoyed.