Doctor’s Tip: Whole grains are good for you
Today’s column is about another one of Dr. Michael Greger’s daily dozen, foods we should be eating every day, from his recent book “How Not to Die.”
A few decades ago the national food guidelines told us we needed to eat less fat. The food industry took advantage of this and started offering us food with “low fat” and “no fat.” Unfortunately, these products were mainly sugar and refined grains, were just as addictive as foods with fat, and just as unhealthy, and our obesity epidemic worsened.
Then a few years ago we were told we were eating too many processed, simple carbs, and people were led to believe that all carbs were bad. The truth is that there are good (plant) fats and bad (saturated and trans) fats. And there are also good (whole a.k.a. unprocessed) carbs and bad carbs (processed, sugary).
Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy plant fat, and antioxidants and other health-promoting nutrients. There are some diets out there that advise against eating grains, but this advice is not based on science. For example, there are claims that grains cause inflammation, but well-done studies that show that grains in their whole form actually prevent and decrease inflammation. Many studies, including Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study, show that people who eat whole grains daily have longer lives; and a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and strokes.
Many health professionals, including some dietitians and diabetic educators still adhere to the old dictum that diabetics should avoid any type of carbohydrates. Certainly diabetics, like the rest of us, should avoid processed carbs, but current nutrition science tells us that diabetics do fine with and even benefit from unprocessed carbs (for example see John McDougall’s book “The Starch Solution”).
As with any type of food, processing grains results in loss of fiber and most of the nutrients, and changes a low glycemic index food into a high glycemic index food, resulting sudden increases of blood sugar. This in turn causes the pancreas to secrete more insulin, which results in obesity and eventually diabetes and cardiovascular disease (similar to drinking orange juice instead of eating an orange).
As mentioned in previous columns, intense color is associated with an abundance of phyto (plant) nutrients. The healthiest rice is black rice, second is red, third brown, and you should avoid white rice. Regarding bread, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of many books including “Eat to Live,” says “the whiter your bread the sooner you’re dead.”
The healthiest tortillas are dark, multigrain followed by corn tortillas (be sure there is no lard in them). Whole and multigrain pasta tastes much better than they used to, and Dr. Greger’s favorite brand is Bionaturae. You will find whole grain pasta much more satiating than white pasta, so you won’t eat as much.
When you go to the grocery store, you will find misleading advertising on bread wrappers and cereal boxes. The food companies can say a product has “whole grains” even if the amount is minimal. So look at the food label, see what the total carbs number of grams is and then the grams of fiber. The ratio of total carbs:fiber should be at least 10:1 or less, ideal being 5:1 or less, which means the product has lots of whole grains and fiber. If math isn’t your strong point, multiply the grams of fiber by 5, and that number should be greater than the number for total carbs.
Oats deserve special mention, because they contain unique antiinflammatory compounds called avenanthramides. For decades oatmeal baths have been used for skin inflammation, and oatmeal lotion relieves skin itching and irritation. Likewise, eating oatmeal reduces inflammation in the rest of the body. The least processed form of oats is steel cut oats, available in bulk at many grocery stores.
Dr. Greger’s favorite whole grains are barley, unprocessed rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, popcorn (try nutritional yeast and no-salt-salt on it), quinoa, rye, teff, whole-wheat pasta and wild rice. Three servings per day are recommended, a serving being ½ cup of hot cereal or cooked grains or pasta or corn kernels; 1 cup of cold cereal; 1 tortilla or slice of bread; or 3 cups of popped popcorn.
What about gluten in wheat? Some people have celiac disease, which can be very serious, and they need to avoid any wheat products. There are other people who seem to have “gluten sensitivity” and if they feel better avoiding gluten they should do it. But for the rest of us, eating gluten/wheat is fine, as long as it’s unprocessed.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.