Grains have gotten a bad wrap in recent years, but they have their place in our and our children's diets. The problem is that generations have not been taught the proper way to use grains. This knowledge has been lost to time, and technology. Kids need carbohydrates. This does not mean simple sugars, but complex carbohydrates that are nutrient rich.
Grass Grains Vs. Seed Grains
This is such an important part of understanding how to use grains, and I don't think many people are aware of the differences.
The term grain has become synonymous with any seed that can be stored long term. Grass grains are the seeds of grass plants, white seed grains are all other seeds used as grains. (does that make sense).
The scientific name for grass grains is, Caryopsis, and this includes all fruit from the Poaceae Family of grasses. These are the "Cereal Grains" or Grass Grains.
Throughout history, the cultivation of grass seeds has been the dawn of civilization. Grass seeds are small, hardy, and when dried can last indefinitely. This means that people could harvest crops, store them, and have adequate high energy food for the winter.
In general these seeds contain higher amounts of starches, carbohydrates and simple sugars, with lower amounts of protein and fat. They also, generally, contain Gluten and high amounts of Phytic Acid (although there are exceptions to the rule)
These grains include:
These are seeds, that can be used in the same manner as grass grains, but come from broad leaf plants. These non-grass plant seeds are called Pseudocereals.
Throughout history, primitive cultures have collected these seeds and used them as we do grains today. Some were cultivated, and others were just left wild and collected at the end of the summer, and stored through the winter underground. These seeds are more primitive in nature, have not been hybridized and typically are more nutritious.
In general these seed grains contain lower amounts of starch and simple sugars, and higher amounts of proteins and fats. They are also, generally, free of Gluten and lower in Phytic Acid.
Seed Grains include:
The Forgotten Art of Soaking
Throughout history, people who ate grains processed them. Meaning, they knew that grains, in their raw state, caused digestive issues and had slightly toxic effects. They developed ways to alleviate this. This is the lost art!
Unlike what the Paleo promoters would have you believe, humans have collect, eaten, and saved grains for millennia! Upwards of 100,000 years. That's a long time. It's hard to know who they used these grains, but we can look to modern primitive cultures, and the native american customs to understand what they learned and knew from thousands of years of using this food source.
The big thing they all did, was either Soak, Culture, or Cure these grains before using them. What did these processes do to the grains?
Seeds are little time capsules. Holding all they need to grow into a new plant, but laced with growth inhibitors that prevent germination until the environment is just right. These growth inhibitors are anti-nutrients. Their purpose is to protect the seed and keep the key nutrients safe until the time is right to produce life. We are not ruminant animals, in case you were unaware. We have but one lowly stomach, and no phytase digestive enzymes, therefore we cannot breakdown grains in their raw form. In order to access their nutritional stores, we need to externally begin the digestion that can be done in ruminant animals. This is where the soaking, culturing, and curing comes into play.
Soaking your grains before cooking them begins the germinations process. It signals the breakdown of growth inhibitors and allows the plant to begin to sprout. This sprouting process unlocks the nutrition held within the seed in a way that we can digest it. For this process, the grains must be completely intact. This is a simple process, and just requires leaving, like you would legumes, the grains soaking in water for a minimum of 10-12 hours before you cook them. (Drain the water after soaking, as it has the residue of the growth inhibitors and other by-products).
Soaking and sprouting as also been shown to decrease the amount of Gluten in grains. Maybe the amount of gluten intolerance in today's society is actually, in part (there are many reasons) due to the lost art of processing grains.
If you know someone who is of Asian descent, you will notice that they "wash" their rice before cooking it. My grandmother did this and I never really understood why, she probably didn't either...it's just "What you do" By washing and soaking the rice, she was unlocking the growth inhibitors, and allowing more access to the nutrition inside.
Another method of breaking down growth inhibitors is to culture or ferment the grains. In this method, the grain does not have to be whole, as the bacteria work to breakdown the growth inhibitors and unlock the nutrition without the grain needing to be sprouted.
Think good quality sourdough bread! This use to be a popular way to make bread, before the addition of leavening agents that create the bubbling effect without culturing. Also, think Beer and other alcoholic beverages. Historically grains were used to make fermented and cultured beverages. This fermentation process was actually quite nutritious. Modern beer is typically processed to remove a lot of what made it so healthy...incentive to make your own.
This is an odd one, that is not often used, but used mainly in the processing of corn. The native americans loved their corn, and used it as their primary grain source. They typically did not eat it as is, though. They had multiple processes for curing and culturing it before it was used.
One method, and the main method, was to treat it with lime before drying and storing it. The fresh corn was placed in water with Calcium Hydroxide (fire ash). The processed opened up the availability of nutrition in the corn, specifically Niacin (B3).
This is such an important part of processing corn, that has been forgotten. In fact, there are accounts of the devastating effects of communities that rely on corn, and skipped this important step. There is a disease called Pellagra. Pellagra is, basically, a nutritional deficiency. Take for example the introduction of cron to Africa. The africans loved it because of its prolific growth and it quickly became the main crop of the region..but they did not bring with it the knowledge of curing the corn. Because of this, severe malnourishment and disease spread through these areas. Only when the corn was properly cured, did the health improve. There are also stories of similar issues in the Southern United states.
Phytic Acid is great for Plants, Not for Nutrition
One of the anti nutrition found in grains, seeds and legumes, is Phytic Acid. Some level of phytic acid in the diet okay, and also beneficial for detoxification. Too much and you have a problem.
Phytic Acid is the plant storage form of Phosphorus. It is important for the plant, as it helps to pull essential minerals out of the soil and into the plant for storage for germination and growth. The bound form of Phytic Acid is called Phytate (phytic acid + mineral) If the bond is not broken through soaking, sprouting, or culturing, then the phytate is flushed from your system taking the essential minerals with it. This can cause mineral deficiencies very quickly, and minerals are already hard to get. Phytates can also inhibit the digestion of the proteins and fats in the grains, seeds and legumes as well.
Soaking and sprouting grains decrease the amount of Phytic acid and other growth inhibitors, but beginning the germination process and unlocking the nutrients needed for growth.
Fermentation and culturing produces phytase, the digestive enzyme that breaks down phytic acid (like in a cow's stomach, well one of them). It changes the composition of the phytase into a different phosphate group...one that is actually beneficial to the body (known to regulate blood sugar).
So, how do you use this information? You cannot be perfect all the time, I know I am not! But, if you try to process them correctly, then you are going to be on top of it more often than not.
Often this begins with the grains you are choosing. In general, I like more primitive grains. As the more conventional ones, like wheat, have been over bred, hybridizes, GMO'd and are not the same as they use to be..which scares me. I like Seed Grains, as they are typically higher in fat and protein, tend to need less processing and have lower levels of phytic acid...so if you don't soak them that one time, you're okay.
When looking in the store, look for whole grains, or already sprouted grains (these are becoming much more common)
A Little Tip and Trick
There are some grain based meals that you can't soak, right! Let's take pancake mix. Pretty hard to begin the germination process when the grain has already been ground to powder.
So, here is what you can do. Take into account the fermentation. Make your pancake mix and leave it on the counter (room temperature) overnight...or 2...or 3. You will end up with this sourdough-ish pancake mix that is light, and bubbly, and easier to digest.
Grains for Breakfast
Grains can be a great option for breakfasts. They are full of energy, which is why humans have consumed them as long as we have. Some say that it was the addition of grains to the diet that caused our brains to grow and evolve to become smarter. Not sure if this is true, but it sure sounds good.
In reality, grains, in general, provide complex carbohydrates, protein and fat, as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients.
If you pair them with good fats and proteins, you've got a great breakfast combo for your little one to not only get up and running for the day, but to have sustained energy throughout the morning.
Breakfast of Champions: