The quick answer: For the best health value, eat a variety of whole grains, (unless you have a tolerance problem).
If you’re Mormon and attend Sunday School, you can count on hearing a lesson on the Word of Wisdom (the scriptural guidance on nutrition) in the next week or two. This scripture has two parts:
- Prohibitions: Mormons are advised not to use tobacco, or drink alcohol, coffee or tea (herbal teas are allowed). Among the faithful, there ‘s remarkable conformity to these proscriptions—a big reason for Mormon’s better longevity (5 years more life per one study).
- Prescriptions: Things “to do” are left to each person’s judgment, but Mormons are counseled to eat herbs (vegetables) and fruits in season (meaning “fresh”), include (whole) grains as the “staff of life,” and eat meat sparingly.
The purpose of this blog is to help people follow the prescriptions. This is a big challenge because Mormons typically eat the same as the people in their community, meaning the modern American diet (MAD), which has been described as a “toxic food environment.” So around the world, as Sunday School teachers approach this lesson, there will be a moment of attention to better eating. In sum, this is a lot of attention so could be a really good thing.
But there is one reality here: Food habits are difficult to change. It took Food Inc. a century to sell us on over-processed factory food, and it will some time for us to find our way back to healthy eating. That’s why we spread the Healthy Changes over a year, and repeat them year after year. Talk is easy; change is hard.
I spoke with a Utah book publisher about a book on nutrition according to the Word of Wisdom. They were cautiously interested but balked at the idea of needing 52 weeks to undo a century of bad food advice. “Couldn’t you write a book for a 30-day program?” they asked.
Staff of Life
Grains really are the staff of life—2/3 of the world population would starve without them. Depending on the region, rice, wheat or corn are popular forms. Over the last century health enthusiasts have advocated a return to eating grains whole, rejecting the modern refined form for lack of vital nutrients. (Whole grains are high in nutrients and low in calories; it’s the opposite for refined grains.) Society has generally ignored this guidance, preferring the sweetness of refined grains, though this is now changing.
In recent years advocates of the Atkins, or of the Paleo diet, have argued against grains. In addition, a small, but growing, fraction of the population do not tolerate gluten so must avoid certain grains (wheat, rye, barley, spelt, karmut, triticale, and sometimes oats). Celiac disease is a potentially fatal form of gluten intolerance.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends eating at least three services of whole grains daily. The Whole Grains Council notes these proven benefits of eating whole grains, vs. refined forms:
- Risk of stroke reduced 30-36%.
- Type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%.
- Heart disease risk reduced by 25-28%
- Better weight control
- Reduced risk of asthma, inflammatory diseases, high blood pressure, and gum disease or tooth loss.
In our home, we eat a variety of whole grains and avoid refined white flour (except for making white sauce or the occasional cake). Here’s a summary of recent posts about grains:
The Whole Darn Grain: This was the first post on grain and it introduced the “fiber-greater-than-sugar” rule for purchased cereal products.
Are Carbs Good or Bad? A post influenced by Gary Taubes’ book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, provided ten steps to a lower, and healthier, glycemic index.
The Bread of Life: We eat our weight in flour each year; for most less than 10% is whole grain. This post solicited reader’s favorite bread recipes.
A Few Good Women: The story of May Yates, a food heroine, who fought for whole wheat bread in England.
Flour and The Hundred Years War: Discussed the issue of freshness and preservation of whole grain flours and suggested grinding close to time of use.
The Good Breakfast: This is the easiest meal to make completely healthy. See the link to Healthy Recipe #1: Breakfast Compote.
Waking Up In The Bread Aisle: This popular aisle visit discussed the practice of “slotting fees,” then examined the bread for sale in a typical supermarket and found just 3 of 70 met the fiber health rule.
Trouble In The Cereal Aisle: In this post we spend a Friday evening in the cereal aisle and find just 8 of 128 meet our fiber-greater-than-sugar rule.
Comment: Whole grains are one of the best food values but we think it best to enjoy a variety. Please comment on how you include whole grains in the diet of your family, or share a favorite recipe.