Welcome to this month’s guest post from Beth Roessner, aka The Rungry Health Coach! Today Beth is offering a defense of grains. Why have they become enemy number one recently? And what do you need to know about grains in your diet?
What once was known as the foundation of the food pyramid, grains are now under siege. Grains have become enemy No. 1 in a murky war on carbohydrates.
Books have proliferated store shelves with titles screaming that bread is dangerous. Low-carb recipes have taken over the Internet. Facts and opinions on the matter of bread and grains are everywhere. And everyday people are left in a cloud of confusion.
Grains aren’t the enemy—it’s the kind of grain that should be under scrutiny.
Carbohydrates can fall into one of two buckets: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs are essentially sugars, quick sources of energy that are easily digested. Think of things like fruit juice, milk, honey or table sugar. Complex carbs, like legumes, quinoa or brown rice, take the body a long time to digest. Because of this, the energy is slowly released.
Some grains and everyday products, like white bread, can fall into the bucket of simple carbohydrates.
During the milling process, the grains are stripped of much of their nutrition. Often, these flours are then “enriched,” meaning certain nutrients are added back in. These starchy foods act more like simple sugars in the body.
For many, carbohydrates are not the enemy. As runners, they’re our body’s ideal source of fuel, and high-quality grains are an excellent source.
When broken down, the body turns carbohydrates into glucose. Glucose is stored in both the liver and muscles as glycogen, and during long-time use (like a really long run), these energy stores are tapped. When these storage tanks are fueled regularly and properly, runners are better able to complete all of their training.
Grains also fell under more scrutiny as gluten became a buzzword. Gluten is a protein found in wheat. The fluffiness of your favorite bread, the twist in your challah, or the delightful chew in your favorite noodle is all caused by gluten.
Unfortunately, not all bodies can tolerate gluten, and symptoms manifest in different ways. While some people have autoimmune reactions (Celiac disease), others may have minor bloat or constipation.
As the symptoms of gluten became more known, many were quick to blame grains and call for their banishment from the American diet. Wheat also came under fire because it’s often sprayed with pesticides during the growing process, and the seeds are more than likely GMOs. (Genetically Modified Organisms are tinkered with in a lab to create a more resilient, higher yielding crop. The effects of GMOs aren’t entirely understood as of yet, but the process feels unethical for many food advocates.)
Not sure if you can tolerate gluten? Try an elimination diet. Common symptoms with gluten sensitivity include bloat, skin irritation, constipation and other digestive stress.
Two high-protein, gluten-free grains are quinoa and millet. These quick-cooking little guys are as versatile as brown rice and both have a pleasantly nutty taste. Other gluten-free grains to consider are amaranth or buckwheat.
Oats are a very popular breakfast item for runners—they’re easy to digest and completely customizable. But beware, if you’re avoiding gluten, always opt for certified gluten-free oats. Oats are naturally gluten-free, but when processed, they can be contaminated.
Bulgur and farro are two other grains when you’re not in the mood for rice. They both have a delightful chew and cook fast, but being related to wheat, they contain gluten.
Spelt flour is gaining in popularity because it’s wheat free, however, it does contain some gluten. Spelt can be used in place of whole-wheat flour, but it will yield different results because of its low-gluten content.
When reading ingredient labels on bread and pastas, stick to lists with few ingredients, and words you can pronounce. Avoid excessive sugars, additives, enriched flours and any dyes.
Do you include grains in your diet?
Have you experimented with elimination diets?
Beth Roessner is a one-time couch potato turned avid runner, triathlete and wellness warrior. Through her business, The Rungry Health Coach, she works with adults around the country to help them reach all of their wellness and running goals–from weight loss to boosting a runner’s mental game. She firmly believes that overall wellness is about small changes that help create sustainable habits. Beth lives in Washington DC, where she enjoys morning runs around the monuments, and eating a lot of vegetables.