Saturday, August 11, 2012

Whole Grains......... Part 2

     This post is not about the specific benefits of fibre, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients naturally, abundantly present in whole grain cereals and pulses. That these are beneficial to your child's and your own long term health is beyond question. In fact, science tells us that a diet comprised of multiple whole grains immediately improves digestion, lowers bad cholesterol levels in blood, is better for your liver, boosts immunity, keeps your blood glucose levels stable and cuts your risk of most non- communicable disease, thereby increasing your lifespan.

     No, I am demolishing the myth that the typical South Indian diet, in it's current form, is healthy. Take a typical day's breakfast – idlis, dosas or pongal - made from white rice or take rava upma, all doused with oil or even ghee. Lunch - a significant quantity of white rice, sambar, rasam or curry. Dal or pulses may not even feature in a meal. A small serving of vegetables if any (because 'what do we eat it with?'). Maybe a salad and a bit of buttermilk or curd (not necessarily low fat). Maybe murukku, mixture or even biscuits at snack time. Dinner can be more or less the same as lunch or just tiffin items and may not contain a regular protein dish. So, refined grains are not just a part of our daily diet – they are the predominant component.

    White rice and other refined grains are the root of our nation’s health evils. One of the biggest myths is that we need them. Until just a few generations ago, our ancestors ate hand-pounded, unpolished rice apart from other whole grains (almost nothing was highly polished or refined, not even sugar). They were intensely active and lived a long healthy life.

Some of the ill effects of eating refined grains including white rice everyday are:
  • Poor digestion and even constipation. Development of piles, hernias, etc.
  • Insulin resistance – reduced responsiveness of our cells to insulin, leading to Diabetes.
  • Lack of essential nutrients for basic body processes
  • Sluggish metabolism leading to weight gain, especially around the abdomen. This in turn leads to increased risk for a host of problems including heart disease.
  • Syndrome X or the Metabolic Syndrome – an outcome of this syndrome is non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), abnormal blood lipids and high uric acid levels in blood – affecting the liver, heart and kidney.
  • Low energy levels, higher frequency of food cravings and addictions – bingeing – leading to even more weight gain.

     'Going Whole Grain' simply means replacing white rice, maida, rava, white bread and other refined carbohydrate foods with whole grain ones. So foods you start avoiding are white rice, rava, parboiled white rice (in dosas and idlis), instant noodles, most biscuits, naans, kulchas and rumali rotis. Bakery products are also mostly made with maida. Check food labels and remember ‘wheat flour’ still is maida.

     Examples of whole grains to start using are Millets (ragi, navane, saame, bajra, jowar, etc.), Brown and Red rice, Oats and Quinoa. Replacing your regular dals with whole grams / pulses or split ones with skin is the next step. It is best to cut consumption of even whole wheat as it has been proven to damage intestinal health. Diabetics especially would profit from this elimination in their diet. 

     Acclimatize yourself and the family to whole grains in small quantities. Usually, these are well tolerated, however, if anyone is showing signs of indigestion, mix whole grains and usually used grains initially to give them time to adjust (ex: Jowar flour can be mixed with atta to make phulkas, red rice can be mixed with white in a ratio of 1:1). Even then, all whole grains might not suit everyone - select the ones that work for  your family and use those. 

     Half measures of including whole grains on a weekly basis are now the norm in many households. However, nothing less than switching over to whole grains on a daily basis will have long term benefits for your family. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid refined grains for the rest of your life – just use them much less frequently – once in a fortnight or month, cooked healthily and in small quantities along with other nutritious foods. Try this path and you will see immediate as well as long term benefits. This is not a fad diet, it’s for life.

The recipes in the following posts demonstrate how easily one can incorporate whole grains into daily cooking and tickle the family's taste buds at the same time. Enjoy the earthy and natural flavours of these foods. These are just an example of different types of dishes, feel free to experiment and share your creations and results with me. All grains mentioned in the recipes are now available regularly in super markets. If not, try your local organic store.

An edited version of this post was published in 'Parent Circle', August, 2012.

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