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Grains: Going Beyond White Flour

September 16, 2020

When it comes to grains there are a lot of strong feelings. Are grains good or bad for your health? Is gluten the enemy? The answer is: it depends.*

In general, grains are an important component of a complete diet that is varied with vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and beans and other high-nutrient, high-fiber, microbiome-friendly foods. But the key is that not all grains are created equal. There is a big difference in nutritional value between whole wheat berries and refined, processed white flour. Wheat berries are a whole grain, with only the hull removed—so they retain more nutrients and much more fiber. The same weight of whole wheat berries contains more than 4 times more fiber, 30% more protein, and slightly fewer calories as white flour. Wheat berries have a low glycemic index (30) vs 72 for white flour. A low GI is better: All that fiber allows your body to digest wheat berries more slowly, limiting the spike in blood glucose and insulin. Wheat berries are also high in vitamin E, magnesium, and iron.

What about gluten? Should it be avoided? If you have celiac disease, your immune system reacts poorly to gluten, causing inflammation (which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid). Most people do not have an inflammatory reaction to gluten. However, there may be an “in-between” group of people that has a gluten sensitivity. Although not technically celiac, it may cause some immune response and hence inflammation. If you think you might have any degree of gluten sensitivity, it’s important to consult your doctor.

Most people are used to cooking and eating rice. Expanding your repertoire to include other grains isn’t that much of a stretch. Experiment with other savory whole grains such as whole wheatberries, barley, or bulgur. If you need or want to go gluten free, try buckwheat, brown rice, or quinoa (technically a seed). The most important thing to remember is to limit or avoid white bread, white flour, white pasta, and pastries from your diet, which, for your body, more closely resemble sugar than a grain.

For more information on nutrition and lifestyle check out our guide, The Science of Living Well, Beyond Cancer

*if you’re sick of hearing this answer, be on the lookout for content on precision nutrition later in the month.