Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Grains: Ancient or Modern?

Someone asked me if I thought it would be better to eat grains that were grown thousands of years ago, as opposed to what we find in stores today.

"Better," that's such a subjective term. Tastier? Weight stabilizing? Cancer, diabetes, heart disease preventing? Easier to digest? Less painful on the pocketbook? More lucrative for business? Depends on who you ask, I suppose. But I see benefits in preserving ancient grains.

There's a problem with access. It's difficult to feed a population with a food that isn't being cultivated to any great extent. There are reasons today's grains were selected over ancient grains - seed dormancy, height of plant (proximity to soil nutrients), ability to separate husks and glumes from grain, yield of plant, time to harvest, natural drought and pest resistance, and more recently ability to patent (profit).

Advocating a food which is difficult to access is like telling someone who lives in Canada that coconuts are really good for you; it's a shame you can't grow them.

Another thought, if you're comparing older grains to foods found in stores today, that is, if you're grinding these grains to a powder, then they will present the same problem of accelerated digestion as the flour-based foods of today.

Recall the study in this post:
Eating Processed Food Makes It Easier To Gain Weight

Two groups of rats were fed either standard pellets or easily-chewed, soft pellets (made softer by increasing air content, as is done in breakfast cereals). The rats ate the same number of calories, with the same macronutrient content (carbs, fat, protein), but:
  • After 18 weeks, "body weight in the soft-fed group was significantly greater."
  • After 22 weeks, weight of abdominal fat in the soft-fed group was significantly greater, enough to designate the rats as obese.
As Gary Taubes rightfully argued, a calorie is not a calorie.

(Possible mechanism: Less energy needed for digestion/assimilation in the soft-fed group. Lower thermogenesis, both post-meal and overnight, was associated with easier-to-digest food.)

It's vital that we continue to cultivate older seeds. Their DNA code for proteins we may find beneficial, nutritionally and medicinally. As food, their macro- and micronutrient make-up is different than that of modern seeds. The medicinal potential being lost in the Amazon by extinction of older plants - because we raze the land for pasture or crops or cities - is heartbreaking and shortsighted. We may need to restore this DNA data from a backup if we discover our current agricultural hard drive has deteriorated.

My feeling - If you choose to eat grains it's best to eat a variety. It matters more that the grain, which is just a seed, is fresh, not bioengineered (which is distinct from normal hybridization or selective breeding), organic if you can get it (fewer pesticides), and not ground into flour ... than how old its DNA is. It's also a good idea to germinate the seed a little before you prepare it. Soak or sprout it. Among other things, germinating will reduce the amount of gluten, a protein many people have difficulty digesting.
The photo is of my 100% sprouted wheat bread. I make it at least once a week. It's delicious! We're hooked on it, especially with a little peanut butter. Flourless, yeast-free, no sugar, just wheat and a little salt.

I'll get around to writing a recipe for it. It's so basic and easy. Take about 2 cups of whole wheat kernels, soak them overnight, sprout them for a day or 2, grind them, and bake in a covered pot. I let the loaf rest in a warm oven to set up, which is what you see in the photo.


Anonymous said...

I like your bread! Please give the recipe.

Dr. Mel said...

Very interesting post, Bix. I like the idea of ancient foods, esp. b/c they offer an alternative to brown rice, which for some reason I don't like!
A question, though. Now I don't know if this is true or not, but a friend once told me that sprouts (including grain sprouts) contain a toxin intended to keep predators from eating the sprout while it's still "infantile." She said one should always wait at least until the sprout develops its first true leaves, not the cotyledons. Is that just silly?
Look forward to your recipe for true *whole*-grain bread!

Bix said...

Hi Melinda, good to hear from you!

Toxins in sprouts - I've looked up various chemicals in the past and didn't see anything that would be worrisome after being cooked. (My bread cooks for several hours.)

Germinating, in fact, reduces levels of protease inhibitors and other "anti-nutrients."

Bix said...

Yes, I'll work on the recipe :)
It's all in my head at the moment.