Monday, October 15, 2007

Playing With Grains

I've been working my way backwards along the processing line in hopes of finding grains that won't spike my postprandial (after-meal) blood glucose. I found some, and I can say without doubt, at least when it comes to my constitution, all whole grains are not created equal.

On the left, my whole grain barley. On the right, my whole grain oats. The barley is hulled, that is, an outer fibrous hull has been removed but some bran is still intact. Pearl or pearled barley has the bran removed. The oats are also hulled, the outer husk has been removed but oat bran is still intact.

No More Kashi

The last few months for me have given new meaning to the phrase "whole grains".

I used to enjoy a bowl of "Whole Grain" Kashi Flakes in the morning. I thought I was doing my body good. My blood glucose could push 140 mg/dl after that.1 Not goodness. But a bowl of oat or barley porridge (I think I should really call what I eat gruel ... it's very soupy!) leaves my BG comfortably in the 90s. A girl can't ask for more.

Kashi Flakes are advertised as containing "7 Whole Grains and Sesame." Here's their ingredient list:

Kashi Seven Whole Grains and Sesame® Blend - (Whole: Hard Red Winter Wheat, Oats, Long Grain Brown Rice, Triticale, Rye, Barley, Buckwheat, Sesame Seeds), Long Grain White Rice, Evaporated Cane Juice, Barley Malt Syrup, Wheat Bran, Oat Fiber, Brown Rice Syrup, Salt.

It says "whole" a number of times (14, I think) on their page.

But did they take the whole grain and pulverize it to within an inch of its life? That would make it easily digestible, and could be why it spiked my BG. I also note that white rice (flour?) is the 2nd ingredient. Are we talking 51% whole grain (flour?) and 49% white rice (flour?)? I don't know. Even if it's not made into a flour, how is it processed that it results in flakes? Then there's the added sugar ... "cane juice", "barley malt", "rice syrup". Nice names, but sugars nonetheless, which are also broken down by the body, my body, in haste.

Back To My Barley And Oats

To the right is a close-up of the uncooked grains, barley on the left, oats on the right.

They look similar, but ...
  • They taste strikingly different. The oats are sweeter; the barley, even though I don't roast it (I could), has a toasted or savory tinge.
  • The oats cook up creamier; the barley chewier.
  • The oats stay a light ecru color; the barley, surprisingly, taints its cooking liquid a deep reddish-brown.
  • The oats take less time to cook than the barley.

Cooking Is Easier Than I Thought

1   Toss a handful of rinsed grains into a bowl, cover with water, soak for a day. Soaking cuts down on cooking time and promotes beneficial fermentation.

2   Rinse the grains, add water (about 1 part grains to 2 or 3 parts water), and simmer, partially covered, at the absolutely lowest setting. I've eaten them after about 30 minutes, but they're still a little chewy for my taste, especially the barley. A full hour is better. You can go longer for an even creamier consistency.

Note: I've learned the hard way to monitor the water level and add more when they start to foam, before they, for-crying-out-loud, stick to the bottom in a burned mess.

3   Serve with a splash of honey or maple syrup, cinnamon or other spice, nut milk, buttermilk or other dairy derivative, ground flax or sesame seeds, and salt. I even like them in a savory, non-sweetened way, with miso or tamari (soy sauce). Once, I mixed them into an egg omelette. There's a lot of potential here for recipes!

Note: Shown is barley, with no accoutrements. I simmered it in water for about an hour, until the grains popped open. For this photo, I made the cereal a little drier than how I like to eat it, but I thought it showed grain texture better.

Benefits of eating true whole grains:
  • They keep my blood sugar low, and my insulin response tempered. (My primary reason for this change.)
  • They're less expensive than more processed "whole grains".
  • I like they way they taste!
  • They provide, for me, a sustained source of energy, with no subsequent carb-cravings.
  • I don't have to eat artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives along with my cereal.
  • I'm not feeding the conglomerate middlemen like Quaker Oats (owned by PepsiCo) who care not a whit about my health compared to their bottom line.
  • I'm not paying for advertising and marketing. No Harley McBarley here.
  • Less packaging = less manufacturing of plastic and cardboard containers = less use of carbon-based fuels = less trash in a landfill.
  • Whole grains take time to prepare and cook. But I've found a few ways around this. I simmer a batch when I'm home, then refrigerate it. It keeps for several days and I can easily spoon some out and reheat it with a little liquid. It's faster than instant oatmeal!
  • Gruel is not easily portable.
  • I'm contributing to the obsolescence of some processing, manufacturing, packaging, and marketing jobs.
  • I'm taking the food out of the mouths of ... cows, chickens, pigs, horses ... fish?
1 I check my blood glucose with a BG meter, LifeScan's OneTouch Ultra.
Photos: Homegrown, except for Kashi cereal box.

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