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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

Every Body Loves Whole Grains

A frequent visitor to this site called my attention to Jane Brody’s article For Unrefined Healthfulness: Whole Grains in the NYTimes.com (April 3, 2003). He commented, "I think [she's] been reading Clarence Bass." Actually, it’s just the opposite.

Jane Brody’s Nutrition Book (W.W. Norton & Co., 1981) was one of the first to convince me that whole foods are one of the secrets to weight control. Her cogent description of a study comparing the blood sugar and insulin responses from eating whole apples, applesauce and apple juice helped me understand why whole foods are vastly superior to refined foods.

Citing Brody’s book, I wrote in Ripped 2 that the insulin in the blood rose twice as high after the juice than after the whole apple. One to three hours later, the blood sugar levels dropped – back to normal after the apples, but to a level distinctly below normal after the juice. An intermediate but below-normal blood sugar level occurred after the applesauce. Importantly, it also took a lot longer to eat the apples, 17 minutes versus 1˝ to down the juice.

Highlighting the significance of the different blood sugar and insulin fluctuations in the three groups, Brody wrote: "These below-normal levels [of blood sugar], called hypoglycemia, are usually associated with feelings of hunger. Thus, the fiber in the whole apples reduced the demand for insulin and produced a longer lasting feeling of satiety." In other words, whole foods such as apples produce long-term hunger satisfaction. Refined foods such as applesauce and apple juice cause low blood sugar, leaving you hungry soon after.

Jane Brody’s recent article on whole grains shows that the evidence on whole foods gets better all the time. She reports on a conference sponsored by Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust and the Harvard School of Public Health where researchers summarized the health advantages of substituting whole grains for refined starches.

Good and Bad Carbs

"The carbs that predominate in the American diet...deserve much of [their] unsavory reputation," Brody writes.

Unfortunately, the carbs that most people eat are the wrong kind. Sugars and refined starches, such as white flour and white rice, make up the lion’s share of America’s carbohydrate consumption. The far more wholesome whole grains are only 5%, Jane Brody reports.

The bran (the outer layer) and germ (the internal embryo) are removed from white flour and white rice. What’s left is pure starch, which acts like sugar in the body. The healthful nutrients are in the discarded bran and germ. All that’s left is unsatisfying empty calories.

Brody quotes the Food and Drug Administration: "Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods...may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers."

Whole grains are low in fat and high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They even contain 10-15% protein. The energy-packed starch is there as well, of course. "But it is the indigestible fiber and phytochemicals in whole grains that render them stars in disease prevention," Brody writes.

Slimming Effect

Whole grains are filling and satisfying. Refined grains are higher in calories, less filling and leave you wanting more.

Almost pure starch or glucose (the sugar in blood), refined grains are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. Like the apple juice in the study referred to above, this causes an abrupt rise in blood sugar and a corresponding rise in insulin to bring the blood sugar back down. The excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen or converted to fat.

Reiterating the point in her earlier book, Brody says, "The sudden influx in glucose can cause an overproduction of insulin that results in enough of a drop in blood sugar to cause hunger to return in an hour or two." The result, of course, is almost always overeating.

Like whole apples, whole grains produce the opposite effect. Brody explains: "Absorption [is] slowed by the fibrous bran and by the protein and fat in the germ, increasing satiety and delaying the return of hunger."

Reinforcing the point, Brody cites a study of 3,627 men and women followed for seven years, reported at the conference by Dr. Simin Liu of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. "Those who ate the most grains – more than nine times a week – weighed five to eight pounds less, on average, than those who consumed [grain] no more than twice a week," Brody writes.

Other Health Benefits

"People who eat whole grains are healthier and live longer," Brody reports.

Dr. David Jacobs and colleagues at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, in a continuing study of 34,000 Iowa woman aged 55-69, found that those who ate at least one serving of whole-grain foods a day had a significantly lower risk of death from all causes.

Many large studies have found that eating whole grains reduces the risk of heart disease and various cancers, including cancer of the digestive tract, breast and prostate, and diabetes.

Dr. Joanne Slavin, a professor of food and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says the protection probably comes from a combination of components in whole grains. The best know is fiber, which lowers cholesterol and speeds the transit time of food through the intestinal tract, but others include antioxidants, phytic acid, lectins, phenolic compounds, amylase inhibitors and saponins. The bodyweight lowering effect of whole grains is also an important factor in health and longevity.

Whole grains are good for us, no doubt about it. As Jane Brody says, they are a star in disease prevention.

Ornish and Atkins Agree

Low-fat guru Dean Ornish, MD, and low-carb king Dr. Robert C. Atkins, who passed away recently, are poles apart in most aspects of diet, but they agree on whole grains. In separate sidebars written for Time magazine’s cover story on diet (Weighty Dilemma, September 2, 2002), both came out against sugar and white flour and white rice, and for whole grains.

Dr. Ornish: "You should opt for whole foods with complex carbohydrates such as unrefined whole-wheat bread, brown rice, fruits , vegetables and beans." (Emphasis mine)

Dr. Atkins: "The [Atkins Nutritional Approach] recommends that the carbs you add consist of more green vegetables, followed by seeds and nuts, fruit that won’t spike your insulin levels (such as berries, cherries and green apples), whole grains and some starchy vegetables." (Emphasis mine)

Yes, every body loves whole grains. Problem is, we just don’t eat enough of them.

More Whole Grain Foods

As those who have read my books and watched my video know, my "Old Reliable" breakfast includes cooked whole grains such as oat groats, kamut, barley and amaranth. I also eat several slices of whole-grain bread every day; Ezekiel Sesame by the Food for Life Baking company is my favorite. 

Jane Brody lists other ways to include whole grains in your diet.

Whole grains are the main ingredient in about 18% of ready-to-eat cereals, according to Brody. Examples are Wheaties, Cherrios, Wheat Chex, Whole Grain Total, Shredded Wheat, Grape Nuts, Raisin Bran and oatmeal (not instant). (Packaged cereals are too refined for me; they usually have added sugar as well. The only time I eat -- and enjoy -- these cereals is when traveling and whole grains are not available.) 

Check the label, says Brody. Whole wheat should be the first ingredient listed.

Other choices noted by Brody are brown rice, whole wheat pasta, wild rice, whole-kernel corn and low-fat pop corn.

For more details read Jane Brody’s article or any of her books.

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