1 August 2009

Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: Ancient grains are better for you.

Nicole Senior

Fact: Old and new grains are good for you.
Ancient grains such as spelt, amaranth and quinoa are fashionable at the moment (along with chia, covered in Foodwatch), albeit hard to get and more expensive. The rising popularity of these ‘old-world’ grains is great because variety in the diet, and a variety in agricultural production, is good for us and good for the environment. However, there are plenty of grains and seeds that are less trendy, but more available, affordable and just as nutritious.

Spelt bread is sold at a premium, but what it is? Spelt is an age old variety of wheat, and spelt bread has a medium GI, although some multi-grain varieties make it into the low category. While spelt is advertised as ‘easier to digest’, and ‘suitable for those allergic to wheat’, it is certainly not suitable for those with a wheat allergy or coeliac disease and there is little published evidence for easier digestibility. Some people attribute all sorts of health problems and digestive symptoms to eating wheat, and many will get relief from varying the grains they eat. However, those with symptoms often have a more complex food chemical (natural and added) sensitivity problem rather than intolerance to wheat. But variety is the spice of life, so vary your diet from wheat thrice daily with, for example, oats for breakfast, rice-salad for lunch, and barley hotpot or polenta-based dish for dinner.

Amaranth has been growth for thousands of years and traditionally eaten by the Aztecs. It is also gluten-free and provides a welcome ‘starch change’ to rice and potato on the dinner plates of those with diagnosed coeliac disease. It is slightly higher in protein than other grains at 14% (uncooked form) and the plant is very hardy. You can find amaranth breakfast cereal in health food stores and some supermarkets, priced at a premium. Puffed or ‘popped’ amaranth has a high GI. If you’re looking to eat something healthy and different for breakfast, try making your own cereal using a variety of puffed grains (corn, millet, brown rice, buckwheat), rolled oats, chopped nuts and dried fruit – variety in a bowl. Store your designer cereal in a cool place in an airtight container.

Photo of vegetables stuffed with quinoa: Ian Hofstetter

(pronounced keen-wa) is grown in the Andes mountains and was consumed by ancient Incans, cementing South America as the hotspot origin for ancient grains. Like other grains it is high in carbohydrate (68%), low in fat (4.8%) and moderate in protein (12%), and it is gluten-free as well. You cook it similarly to rice – 1 cup dry quinoa to 2 cups water. It has a low GI when cooked, cooled and re-heated, which fits in nicely with cooking a large batch and freezing in meal-size portions for convenience. You can also use it to make a porridge.

I cooked some quinoa recently, and served it in place of pasta with vegetables and butter beans in tomato-based sauce. I enjoyed the tiny grains, but my beloved was less keen on the ‘funny rice’. Sometimes it’s hard being a food pioneer, but it won’t stop me!

If you’d like to find out more about the health benefits of wholegrains and how to cook great recipes using them, check out Nicole’s book www.eattobeatcholesterol.com.au



Anonymous said...

I was dissappointed to see this research article showed no difference between spelt and whole wheat; is there any more recent or competing research to indicate that it has superior glycemic index?

GI Group said...

Here's an article on wholegrains that may help you understand how and why it's the processing that affect the GI.

Going with the WHOLE grain
Grains are the seeds of cereal plants and include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, maize (corn), millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, spelt and wheat. These staple foods are the most concentrated source of carbs in our diet, provide us with protein, are low in fat, packed with essential vitamins and minerals and rich in fibre when you eat the wholegrain varieties. Studies around the world show that eating plenty of wholegrain cereals reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In addition, a higher fibre intake, especially from whole cereal grains, is linked to a lower risk of cancer of the large bowel, breast, stomach and mouth. Although all wholegrains are healthy, nutritious foods, it’s only the low GI ones that reduce your blood glucose and insulin levels throughout the day and increase your sense of feeling full and satisfied because they are the ones that slowly trickle glucose into your bloodstream. We like to say that your body is doing the processing, not the manufacturer.

Why do some ‘wholegrains’ have a low GI and not others? Prof Jennie Brand-Miller explains.

Some people use ‘wholegrain’ and ‘low GI’ as though they are interchangeable terms. That’s not the case at all. Wholegrain foods can be high or low GI, and it’s essential to understand this and know what’s low and what’s not to manage your blood glucose levels. In fact many processed wholegrain foods such as wholemeal bread have a high GI. Why? It all comes down to the physical state of the fibre and the starch in the food. When wheat fibre has been finely divided as it is in wholemeal bread, it does little for either constipation or blood glucose levels. That’s why we say to choose your carbs carefully, and if your favourite wholegrain food has a high or moderate GI, combine it with a low GI food to reduce the glycemic load of the meal or snack. Just for the record, here are five factors that can slow digestion of those nutritious wholegrain carbs.