*DISCLAIMER: I am not a certified nutritionist, nor do I have any strong background in science–(does barely making it through undergrad bio count?). I am a health/nutrition/fitness nerd, though, so I do a lot of reading and thinking about this stuff. I may link to articles that have not been peer reviewed, so don’t take everything I say as gospel. I know some of you reading have a more legit background in this stuff, so I welcome any critiques of content. : )
Okay, okay, so maybe it’s not entirely appropriate to title my first Wellness Wednesday post with a term that has ambiguous, but unarguably violent origins. But who said wellness was all soothing, kumbaya? Wellness would surely be more accessible were we to overthrow capitalism, no?
I fear I’m scaring you. This post has nothing to do with militant anarcho-punks. This is about white refined grains and how getting them out of your diet is an EASY step towards wellness. Many of us grew up on white bread; Wonder was okay, sure, but I loved Schwebel’s ‘taliano, “the bread with the foreign accent!” (<–actual logo!). This stuff had all the fluffy comfort of a cloud, but it was a cloud for my belly that tasted good–noting that my definition of “good,” at the time, also included McDonald’s chicken McNuggets and frozen pierogis (between the Italian bread and the Polish pierogis, I was very cultured). I started hearing that white bread and white rice was bad for you in my late teens, so I switched to mostly wheat bread, except for all those times that I was confronted with a bread basket or a restaurant that served white rice. Or when I wanted to make vegan risotto. Or when I wanted pasta (which, actually, was a rarity; after becoming vegetarian when I was about 14, I ate nothing but pasta and managed to OD on it by the time I got to college. An Italian restaurant will always be last on my list for places to go). But the point is, I didn’t take it too seriously. I started buying half-ass versions of “nutritious” “wheat” bread, which were often worse than their white counter-parts. For example, as recently as a year ago, I had a love affair with Arnold’s Sandwich Thins, which may have been “whole wheat,” but the third ingredient on the list was Sugar. Following sugar was a long list of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, as well as canola oil. Ew. (Read more about the evils of canola oil here).
But were there real reasons for me to give up white bread in the first place? What’s the big deal about refined grains? I’m so glad you asked! First, refined grains have been linked to heart disease, obesity and cancer. In addition, White bread has little to no nutritional value. Why would you eat something that is full of preservatives and chemicals when you could eat something that has protein, vitamins and hasn’t been processed?
Risk of disease and lack of nutrition sold me on killing whitey, but it was my sensitivity to gluten that forced me to get more creative (and certainly more healthy) when it came to grains and bread-like-things. Although Celiac disease only effects 1 in 133 people, sensitivity to gluten is far more common (and many people may never realize they have it). I first had a suspicion that gluten and I weren’t buds when I started feeling tired, sluggish and ‘gross’ after eating Seitan, a meat substitute comprised mainly of wheat gluten. When I did the 21 day cleanse (discussed here), and let my body have a break from all bread, I realized that I felt much better without any form of gluten. This was no minor realization–I was a bread ADDICT. My favorite meal was salad and a giant loaf of bread that I would rationalize as healthy if it was dark and full of grains/seeds. I literally had bread almost every night with dinner, which was often soup or salad…A light meal gave me permission to indulge in a lot of bread. Fortunately, three weeks off the
crack stuff, and I lost my cravings. Now, once in a very blue moon, I’ll indulge in a bread basket, but it’s rare. Gluten is more likely to get me in the form of baked goods, but I’ve happily found plenty of gluten-free substitutes for that too!
So, if you give up bread, white rice and white flour, what are you supposed to eat? Here’s a few of my favorite gluten-free grains and flours:
Millet: (supposedly this is pronounced “mill-it”–hard ‘T’–but it’s a lot more fun if you say “mee-lay,” like it’s fancy and French. i do this always; ask my partner). A mild, very digestible grain, interchangeable with quinoa or rice. Here’s a good recipe for millet fritters, which I was first introduced to by my dear friend and colleague, Heather. It’s not the same recipe, but this one sounds great too!
Quinoa: (pronounced KEEN-wah) is grain with light, nutty, flavor. Quinoa was of great nutritional importance in pre-Columbian Andean civilizations. In contemporary times, this crop has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), and like oats, quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it a complete protein source, unusual among plant foods (Wikipedia, 2011; (note to students reading: this is not an appropriate source for academic papers!)). Here’s a super yummy recipe from Healthy Green Kitchen for Black Quinoa and Red Lentil Salad.
Buckwheat: My friend Arv over at Health Glut just had a great post about buckwheat, and provides this cute description: “If buckwheat could make friends, it would definitely be in the same social scene as quinoa and amaranth. The three have a lot in common: all are grain impersonators which are unrelated to wheat or cereal (in fact, quinoa is a relative of spinach and swiss chard), all are gluten free, and all are fantastic sources of vegetarian protein — particularly the amino acid lysine, which is not manufactured by our body and must be supplied through diet.” Last time I was in Chicago, my friend (and talented musical artist) Emily Jane made me these great buckwheat pancakes from the Post Punk Kitchen.
Teff: rich in calcium, protein and iron; sweet malty flavor. Major crop in Ethiopia where the flour is used to make the typical spongy flatbread, injera. But Teff isn’t jut good for savory Ethiopian dishes; check out my favorite food blogger at Oh She Glows and her creation of gluten-free, oil-free vegan Walnut Chip Teff Brownies!