The ongoing grain debate is almost as controversial as the presidential election. Just as democrats and republicans have strong arguments to support their beliefs, so do defenders and opponents to grains. Some tout weight loss with the addition of grains, while others attribute them to weight gain. Another debate, along with may others, is their effect on blood sugar. So if you decide to include grains in your daily food consumption, let’s make sure you get the most nutritious bang for your buck! First let’s take a look at the 2 types of grains.
- Whole grains – contain the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm. They are a source of many nutrients including dietary fiber, several b vitamins, and essential minerals such as iron, magnesium and selenium.
- Refined Grains – have been milled and processed to remove the bran and germ. This is done to give them a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but at the same time, this process also strips them of dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Therefore, most refined grains are processed even further (i.e., enriched) to add vitamins and iron back. Fiber, however, is not added back to enriched grains.
Because of their lack of fiber, refined grains are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, this can cause blood sugar levels to spike and then quickly crash. These swings in blood sugar can drain your energy and leave you feeling tired and even moody. On the other hand whole grains are rich in fiber which slows the rate of digestion and causes a more gradual and lower rise in blood sugar. These effects will make you feel full longer and can also provide long-lasting energy.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults eat at least half their grains as whole grains. The more of your grains that are whole grains, the better! Be sure when you read the ingredients list you look for the whole grains below.
- Corn, including whole cornmeal and popcorn
- Whole Oats, including oatmeal
- Rice, both brown rice and colored rice
- Sorghum (also called milo)
- Whole Wheat, including varieties such as spelt, emmer, farro, einkorn, Kamut®, durum and forms such as bulgur, cracked wheat and wheatberries*
With the Portion Plate we recommend that 1/4 of your plate be filled with whole grains or starchy vegetables. So if you do not eat grains, then why not try starchy vegetables. Although they are another highly contested food group, starchy vegetables contain healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Since they are higher in carbs and calories than other vegetables, we recommend them as a substitute for whole grains (not in addition to). Some starchy vegetable options are beets, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and winter squash. So feel free to substitute a sweet potato or regular potato for rice.
Just to recap, when choosing to eat grains, go for the whole grains that are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber or substitute with starchy vegetables. Avoid processed grains that lack fiber and raise your blood sugar. Be sure and read your ingredient label.
Check out the butternut squash recipe below, it is just the right combination of sweet and spicy and it’s a great grain substitute! The Portion Plate gives it a thumbs up!
Balsamic Glazed Butternut Squash
- 3 Tbsp. melted butter
- 1 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. paprika –
- 1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (depending on your spice tolerance)
- sea salt and ground pepper to taste
- Pre-heat the oven to 375.
- Prep the squash. OK, you are going to need to mentally prepare for this as it is a serious arm workout. Peel the squash (I recon this is equivalent to doing 100 kb swings), cut in half (also a feat of strength) and then cut into 1-2 inch cubes.
- Spread the squash out over a baking sheet.
- In a small bowl, combine all the other ingredients. Pour over the squash and mix around to spread evenly.
- Bake for about an hour. My oven is not very fast, so yours may be completed sooner. Check it every 20 minutes and toss it around to cook evenly. It should be tender and easily forked when finished.
Have a safe and healthy weekend!