Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ingredients 401: Grains and Non-grains

So about forever ago I began posting on ingredients and where to find things that you may not have tried or had yet. If you want to check out those posts, they are here (fruits/ nuts/ seeds), here (vegetables/ legumes), and here (natural sweeteners). I also promised a grain post, but I have postponed it due to several factors. This post is only meant to be informative. There are many factors to consider when choosing what grains, or non-grains, to prepare for your family. These same factors have also made me take great care in preparing this post.

First, there is a lot of contradictory info out there on grains. For example, some people call quinoa a "grain", when in fact it is classified in the food industry as a "pseudo-grain"- but that really only means that you can use it as a grain when in fact it is just a seed! I know. Confusing. And I didn't even get into the food industry's use of "whole grain" which means pretty much nothing when they mix the "whole grains" in with a ton of refined grains! Even the USDA's website lists qunioa, buckwheat, amaranth as "whole grains" (technically they are not...see below).

Second, there is a lot of varying information out there on gluten (the protein that comes from the wheat grain- yes, wheat is in fact a grain :). Both my husband and I have been tested for wheat allergies, sensitivities, and intolerance. We do not have any; however, that doesn't mean we eat wheat every day. We still limit it because the jury is still out on whether or not we think gluten is inherently "bad" for everyone. There is a lot of research that states that it is, or could be. Although much of the research we have gone through does not control for a wide variety of other factors. All that being said, I do think that if you have any digestive, mental, emotional problems that you think might be diet related- then it would be a good idea to get tested.

In honor of last month being Celiac Awareness Month (I meant to get this out in May, but yes, this post has been a month in the making!), I will put in a plug for how three ways I know of to test for gluten sensitivities, intolerance, or allergies:
  1. Entero Lab - for a relatively low price (much lower than going to a doctor), you can get tested for gluten (wheat) and casein (animal milk) sensitivities. You simply mail in your sample to be read by the doctors at Entero Lab. However, it is still advisable to see someone who specializes in understanding nutrition and who can help you as an individual. We are all biochemically different. This is why you need to see a healthcare professional who can treat your specific needs.
  2. Go to a Naturopathic Doctor (NMD) near you. We went to an epidemiologist and nutritionist for our testing. His website is here, if you live in the Atlanta area. These doctors know what kind of tests to run and will give you a progressive plan to rest your digestive system if you do have food sensitivities, for example gluten allergies or intolerance.
  3. Eliminate gluten from your diet for a lengthy period, eat normally (sans the wheat), then attempt to eat it again and see how you react. The basic principle is to fast from gluten, and then reintroduce it to see what kinds of symptoms you experience. This is the cheapest way to find out if you may have some level of sensitivity or allergy! However, it still would be best to do this under the care of a wellness-minded physician.
Third reason for postponement, GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. Most of our grain seed here in America has been genetically modified. This means that DNA from strains of soil bacteria that are resistant to weed killer (known as Round-up Ready in the industry), along with other genetic components of horrible things like e coli, are genetically "blended" with the DNA of most of our wheat, corn, rapeseed (for canola oil), potatoes, sugar beets (used to make some table sugar), and many more plants grown in the US.
I will say that from a business standpoint, it makes sense to make sure you can plant as much seed as you want and genetically engineer it so that you can douse your fields with cheap pesticides and still have perfect looking grains without the possibility of weeds getting into the harvest. However, as a consumer and future mom, it makes me cringe to think that most store-bought wheat has been tampered with so much so that it has been "made" with the very building blocks of a harmful bacteria like e coli! What is even more disheartening is that the company that genetically engineers these seeds and has the patent on most of them would like to have 100% of all soy, wheat, and corn crops grown in America be genetically modified. And, yes, that number is fast approaching! I'm not even going to get into what kind of negative impact this has on hard working farmers, who are becoming an extinct breed because they are fighting the man to not use GMO seeds. Just say no to GMO :)

Sorghum Plant [source]

At this point in the post I'm feeling very teacher-y. OK class, now it's time for today's lesson on grains... Just give me some time to climb down from my anti-big-seed- company soap box :)

To clear things up, here is the definition for a grain: A grain is a small edible fruit, usually hard on the outside, harvested from grassy crops, and grown atop the mature plant. In the case of a true grain, the seed and fruit are one- the same thing. For example, the wheat fruit atop the wheat stalk is both the grain product (fruit of the plant) and the seed. So all grains are seeds. With me so far?

However, not all seeds are grains! Some plants produce fruit where the seed can be separated from the fruit of a mature plant. Like a nut coming from a tree, for example can be separated from it's shell- like when you crack open a walnut with a nutcracker. (Yes many nuts are actually seeds as well.) Therefore, these plants where the fruit and the seed can be separated are not grains (even if they are called "grains" because they are used like grains- still not a grain).

Wheat [source]

List of Grass Family (Poaceae)- True Grains

  • Barley *
  • Bulgur wheat *
  • Corn
  • Durum wheat *
  • Fonio
  • Kamut *
  • Millet
  • Oats *
  • Popcorn
  • Rice
  • Rye *
  • Semolina wheat *
  • Sorghum
  • Spelt *
  • Teff
  • Triticale *
  • Wheat *
  • Wild rice
(* Those listed in blue are gluten-containing grains, with the exception of oats, which don't normally contain gluten, they are just usually contaminated with gluten unless listed on their packaging.)

Surprised? Corn a grain? Yes. Corn is no veggie, it is indeed a grain! If you think about it, it makes sense. There is no seed inside the corn cobb you eat. You are eating the corn seeds; but also the grain from the corn plant because the corn kernels, or seeds cannot be separated out. If you don't believe me, look in a corn kernel the next time you eat corn and try to find a seed :)

So this brings me to the Pseudo-grains. Those things people call grains, but actually are seeds that can be used like grains. Quinoa [source]

Most Common Pseudo Grains (from different classes):
  • Qunioa (Amaranthaceae family- same as Beets and Chard!)
  • Amaranth (Same family as Qunioa)
  • Buckwheat (Polygonaceae family, which is the same as vegetables like Rhubarb!)
So these three above are not grains at all. Pretty great alternatives as well if you are going grain-free for a while.

That's all for today. If you would like to know where I buy my grains and pseudo-grains I usually try to buy them in bulk at a local market, and
iHerb to supplement. Many Whole Foods stores are beginning to expand their bulk sections, even including Sprouted Grains. I contemplated getting into sprouting and the good and bad about grains, but I figured I have bombarded you all with enough information :) There may be an additional post coming about these things in the future!

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Disclaimer: I am not a physician, nutritionist, or formally trained adviser for clinical nutrition. The information in this post was gathered after much research in peer-reviewed journals, the internet, and documentaries. Please do not attempt to alter your diet without the care of a physician.

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