What does “whole grain” really mean?

17400-various-breads-and-grains-pvCan you spot the whole grain in this photo?

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what constitutes a “whole grain”. I’m not sure why as it’s really pretty simple. A whole grain not only contains the inner germ, the middle endosperm layer and the outer bran, it’s also … well, whole. You can see it with your eyes. You can feel it with your hands. It looks like a grain. It has defined edges.

A lot of processed foods like to splash “Made with 100% whole grain!” all over their packaging but if the grain has been milled into flour to make that product, it’s no longer a whole grain. It’s flour. The cell walls have been broken, the fats have been oxidized and a lot of the nutrient content has been lost. You’re no longer getting the benefits, however small, of consuming whole grains.

As far as those benefits go, whole grains do contain fiber, B vitamins, small amounts of protein and some healthy fats. But the truth is, if you’re eating a variety of fresh vegetables, leafy greens, seafood, nuts and meats, particularly organ meats, you’re already getting everything that whole grains have to offer from a nutritional standpoint. And you’re getting far fewer insulin-spiking carbohydrates.

Whole grains do add a nutty flavor and chewy texture to meals, and they also can help stretch higher quality ingredients over a greater number of servings. Just keep in mind that the nutritional content compared to the foods listed above is relatively low and that the carbohydrate content is quite high.

If you do choose to eat whole grains, I highly recommend eating TRULY whole grains and entirely avoiding products made from grain flour. The Whole Grains Council has a handy guide to cooking a huge variety of grains in their whole, unprocessed form. It’s also a good idea to soak, ferment and/or sprout your grains before cooking to aid digestion.

And if you choose not to include grains in your diet? As long as you’re eating a variety of fresh, unprocessed plant and animal foods, you’re not missing a thing.

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What does “whole grain” really mean?

What the heck are FODMAPs?

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So you’ve done everything right: you’ve ditched the refined sugar and processed food, you’re eating plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, you’re exercising a couple of times a week and moving a lot every day. But you’re still suffering with abdominal bloating, gas, cramping and discomfort. What’s going on? The problem could be FODMAPs.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols. In layman’s terms, these are sugars and sugar alcohols that are naturally present in many fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and legumes. These particular carbohydrates and sugar alcohols tend to be poorly absorbed by the small intestine, and as a result they pass on to the large intestine where they are fermented by the beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive tracts.

If you’ve ever made homebrew beer, kombucha or sourdough bread then you know what fermentation does — it bubbles up with gas. This can cause bloating, cramping, flatulence and other unpleasant digestive symptoms. I’ve found that for me personally, too many FODMAPs also can lead to fatigue and a return of my fibromyalgia pain.

Fortunately the fix is pretty simple: just stop eating so many FODMAP-containing foods! If you click here you’ll see a fantastic chart of high- and low-FODMAP foods that you can print out and keep handy for reference.

Because a low-FODMAP diet is fairly restrictive, I do not recommend avoiding FODMAPs as a matter of course. While there are hydrogen and methane breath tests available to diagnose malabsorption of two of the FODMAPs, fructose and lactose, the most low-intervention and cost-effective way to determine whether FODMAPs might be a problem for you is to keep a food and symptom diary. Write down what you eat and drink during the day and note any symptoms: digestive upset, fatigue, aches and pains, mood, sleep quality — anything and everything about how you’re feeling. Reference the chart linked above and note whether, on the days you’re not feeling so great, you’ve eaten a lot of FODMAP-containing foods.

If it turns out FODMAPs are a problem for you, don’t despair! There is very little chance you will need to remove all FODMAP-containing foods from your diet permanently. Simply being aware of what you’re eating, paying attention to your symptoms, and cutting back a bit on the FODMAPs when your symptoms are at their worst will likely keep your gut and the rest of you happy!

Want to dig a little deeper? Read more about FODMAPs here.

What the heck are FODMAPs?