Happy, Healthy, Whole Grain
Of all the parenting articles I read, only a few nuggets stayed with me. (After all, I was tired and parenting is mostly learned on the job.) One such piece of gold: the suggestion that one of the nicest things you could do for your children is to make them wholesome, homemade, healthy treats. You control what goes in them, no unpronounceable chemical concoctions with a laundry list of ingredients measured in inches.
Suzie and I embraced this message and over time it evolved into our “whole grain manifesto.” Of course, we had been at it for a while before the kids showed up. Suzie used to eat wheat germ straight from the jar. I was seeking whole grain options in my 20s and was referred to as the “nutrition zealot” by my friends.
But why whole grains?
I am not a nutritionist. (There are those who argue that I should have been one.) But I read everything I can get my hands on. And science keeps giving us new reasons to eat more whole grains and fiber.
By definition, whole grains contain the entire green seed—all the parts in their original proportions, including the naturally occurring nutrients. This means 100% of the original grain—the bran, germ and endosperm—must be present to qualified as a whole-grain.
Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of one’s total grain intake should be in the form of whole grains. Those same guidelines tell us that less than 5% of Americans consume the minimum recommended amount of whole grains. We are also falling short on fiber, found in whole-grains, fruit and vegetables, legumes and nuts. Women are supposed to shoot for 25 grams daily, men 38, but average intake is only about 15 grams per day.
Here’s a glance at the latest research, underscoring the many health benefits associated with diets rich in whole grains:
- Cancer-fighting compounds: According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, grains are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and hundreds of natural plant compounds called phytochemicals which protects cells from types of damage that may lead to cancer.
The Institute’s many epidemiologic studies show that whole grains are protective against cancer, especially gastrointestinal cancers such as gastric and colon, and hormonally depending cancers, including breast and prostate.
- Heart and Health: A study published in the in the Journal of American Medicine, shows that each additional 1 ounce serving of whole grains daily was associated with a 5% lower overall mortality risk and a 9% reduction in death from cardiovascular causes.
Whole grains can also impact cholesterol, which can affect heart health. According to a recent Scandinavian study, subjects assigned diets with whole grains had significantly lower levels of cholesterol than those assigned to a diet without.
- Fiber and Long Life: Some of the most interesting new research involves the connection between the fiber in whole grains and longevity.
An analysis of 17 previous studies totaling nearly 1 million people in Europe and the US, revealed that those who consumed the most fiber from all dietary sources with 16% lower mortality risk than those consuming the least fiber. Eight of the pooled studies showed a 10% lower risk with each 10-gram daily increase of fiber, as cited in the American Journal of Nutrition Letter, April 2015).
Fiber also appears to be associated with a lower risk of diabetes, reported in Diabetologia in May 2015.
A study out in March 2015 from BMC Medicine reveals that eating substantial amounts of of grain fibers like those in cereal can help reduce the risk of death from a number of causes, including cancer and diabetes, by as much as 20%.
So researchers say if you want to live longer, grab a bowl of cereal–or oatmeal cookies.
Driving the Whole-Grain Revolution
These folks changed my thinking (they might influence yours).
Ok, I almost got to have lunch next to Michael Pollan at the Food for Tomorrow Conference last year (until the event staff realized that they had placed a dignified, non-dignitary at his table). Long story, but I would have been dining with one of my most engaging heroes.
If you read nothing else about nutrition, read his short eaters manual: Food Rules. It is simple, humorous, memorable and easy to incorporate into your life. How can you argue with: “Don’t get your fuel from the same place as your car does.”
Other seminal influences: Dr. Deborah McManners, who wrote The Ultimate Holistic Health Book and the book SuperFoods: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life by Stephen Pratt, MD and Kathy Matthews. This book helped launch my appreciation for the humble oat, in so many of our products. (Needless to say I was ecstatic about the advance of gluten-free oats available.)
And finally here are some useful resources that always keep us abreast of the latest news and research related to whole grains:
- Whole Grains Council
- Celiac Disease Foundation
- USDA Child Nutrition
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Among Online Friends
Food blogs can be some of your best friends
What a boon the Internet has been to the evolution of our understanding and love of food and nutrition. Every week I get to sit down with some wonderful folks who educate and inspire me with their lives and recipes.
Here is my short list, so many friends, so little time.
- The Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, Shauna Ahern and her adorable family. Thank you for sharing your STORY…and the new forms it takes with the passing of the years. Hard not to love her.
- Elana Amsterdam, of Elana’s Pantry, who introduced me to the magic of almond flour and writes the most approachable recipes ever for people with dietary restrictions.
- Gluten-Free Goddess, Karina Allrich. Her photos, recipes, and words are pure poetry. She’s an original—and she inspires gratitude for life on this earth.
- Lucinda Scala Quinn, author of the Mad Hungry series of books and former host of the show of same name. For two years, I religiously watched Lucinda in her kitchen as I rode my exercise bike at 11 am. I was crushed when the show went off air. She’s authentic, from Michigan, and has three boys, like me—and the goal that launched her show was to teach the next generation the power of home cooking. How can you not love a woman who writes a cookbook and calls it Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys. I could have helped her write it.
- Heidi Swanson, California-based photographer and author of the blog “101 Cookbooks.” I ADORE her cookbooks, her hikes and her natural foods philosophy as well as her resolution to stop buying cookbooks (which she cannot keep).
- Food52: I can’t say enough about Food52, so I’ll let its motto speak: “How you eat is how you live. Let’s eat well together.” Think of Food52 as a contemporary museum, your own personal guided tour of great food traditions and recipes’. For novice chefs, professionals and all those of us in-between.
I have another admission. My favorite online mentor is not a cooking or a baking maven. I subscribe to a daily message called: “Peace on the Inside,” that graces my inbox with an inspirational quote and a short practice to guide my day. My recent favorite, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa
From our kitchen to yours, wishing you happy whole grain baking with family and friends. Among Friends will be with you in spirit.