By Sue Becker
Grains are on the hot seat right now – the negative hot seat that is. Obesity as well as many other health issues facing many Americans today are being blamed on our over consumption of grains, particularly those “containing” gluten. The fact remains, however, that while America has been labeled one of the most chronically sick and obese nations in the world, only about ½ of our calories come from carbohydrates. Yet eastern or developing countries, who are not experiencing such alarming sickness and obesity rates, derive most all of their calories and nourishment from carbohydrates. It becomes, therefore, imperative that we learn to differentiate between real whole grain carbohydrates and the denatured, commercially processed and heavily sweetened American versions and strive to discover the truth about wheat and other real whole grains.
The truth is, despite what we may read or hear daily, decades of studies have proven that those who consume the most whole grains have significantly reduced risks of heart disease, stroke, inflammatory disease and type 2 diabetes, and experience better weight management and healthier blood pressure levels. It seems unwise, then, to embrace any diet that encourages the exclusion of an entire food group, especially one as nutrient dense as whole grains. And the good news – whole grains are delicious as well as nutritious. The nutritional value of whole grains does not need to be the only enticement for inclusion in our diet. Their diversity in flavor and cooking and baking applications alone might be enough to encourage anyone to make whole grains a prominent part of every meal.
Bread Beckers invites you to join us on this journey as we celebrate the goodness of whole grains and introduce you to some of our favorites.
Week 1 – Wheat and Corn
As a woman who has been born and raised in the southeastern United States, wheat and corn will always be at the top of my list of favorite grains. Growing up our meals were most often accompanied by either hot from the oven biscuits or cornbread. Since soft wheat, good for biscuits, cakes and cookies, and corn are more suited to thrive in the hot, wet growing seasons of the south, southerners adapted their breads to the type of grain available.
It saddens me that these two grains are perhaps the most villainized of all the grains, due in part to their inclusion on most lists of top food allergens. Components of these whole grains, such as corn starch, high fructose corn syrup and wheat gluten, have been separated from the vitality of the whole grain itself and are widely used in commercially processed foods. Consuming such low fiber, high sugar foods containing these unnatural food components along with damage to the gastrointestinal tract caused by the overuse of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil or Aleve, and acid blocking drugs such as Prilosec and Nexium often leads to the development of food sensitivities, intestinal inflammation and significant grain and gluten intolerances and sensitivities. However, many who struggle with these health issues, often find that consuming real whole grains or foods made from freshly milled whole grain flour does not bring on the adverse reactions that come when processed foods containing the adulterated components from these grains are eaten. Diets rich in whole grains, including wheat are not only nutrient and fiber dense but also healing to the gut which some find reverses many chronic gut and food sensitivities.
Wheat, along with corn and rice, are the top 3 most consumed and produced grains in the world. But of the three, wheat is perhaps the most versatile for baking. Since the beginning of time, wheat has remained the grain of choice for bread baking. Hard wheat varieties, grown in cold, dry climates, will have a higher protein content than soft wheat grown in warmer, wetter climates. Hard wheat therefore will produce better results when baking yeast breads while soft wheat, or pastry wheat is more suitable for cakes, biscuits, cookies and quick breads.
The Truth About Wheat
With all the negative publicity that wheat, gluten and other whole grains are receiving, it is important to learn the truth. After more than a year of researching the claims and digging below the surface of the internet, here are the truths that I discovered.
- Despite what is being claimed, wheat is not genetically modified in the US. The Dept. of Agriculture has not approved wheat for genetic modification and there is no GMO wheat grown for consumption in the United States. Modern strains of wheat have been bred by traditional crossbreeding and hybridization methods, neither of which introduce genes outside the species of wheat.
- Grains do not technically contain Gluten is a term that is given to the stretchy substance that forms when wheat flour is hydrated and/or kneaded adequately. The protein content unique to the wheat family of grains has this gluten forming potential. These gluten structures are vital for the proper rise of breads leavened with yeast. As the yeast feeds on the carbohydrate in the dough, CO2 gas is produced. The stretchy strands of gluten trap the gas enabling the bread to rise beautiful. For this reason, wheat has endured the test of time as the king of grains for bread making.
- As mentioned above, gluten is formed from the naturally occurring proteins found in wheat. Some people (<1%) are born with the inability to digest gluten (celiac disease) and will never be able to tolerate wheat or gluten. Others (<10%) may have a sensitivity. For the greater population of Americans wheat and gluten are not harmful at all but in fact can bring significant reversal to many health issues. For more than 100 years, modernized milling methods have separated the bran and germ portions from the rest of the wheat kernel to produce “white flour”, which is nothing more than protein (gluten) and starch and only 5 “enriching” nutrients added to replace the more than 30 lost with the removal of the bran and germ. Almost every store-bought flour product is made with this enriched white flour that is mostly gluten and starch. Even those labeled 100% whole grain have extra gluten added. Many people, with known wheat/gluten sensitivities (not genetic celiac) have shared with us that real bread made only from freshly milled whole grains, including wheat, with no added gluten or white flour is easily digested with no adverse reactions.
- While some claim that the rise of American obesity and chronic sickness rates are directly related to our significant rise in our consumption of wheat, this is simply not the case at all. The facts are that our consumption of wheat has drastically decreased in the last 100 years. In 1900 the average American consumed about 225 lbs/person/year. Food consumption statistics show that in 2011 the average wheat consumption was only 132.5 lbs/person/year. That’s nearly 100 lbs/person less. Interesting to note that one article against wheat and gluten had today’s statistics at only 50 lbs/person/year thinking that was an unusually high amount. What these wheat and grain naysayers fail to mention is that the actual food consumptions that have increased in the past 100 years are meat (up 47 lbs/person/year) and sugar (up 52 lbs/person/year).
This leaves us with the question: “then what has changed”?
Prior to 1900 most bread was baked in home. Flour was milled at home or obtained from a local miller. 90% of the flour produced by these mills was used and consumed in the home, leaving only 10% for commercial bakeries. By 1945, however, home flour use dropped to about 60% and in 1990 home flour use was estimated at <10% meaning that 90% of the flour used today is used in the commercial industry to give us overly processed bread, cakes, cookies, crackers and baking mixes.
So now that we know the truth about wheat, why are grains, including wheat, so important to our health?
- Of the 44 most essential nutrients for our health, wheat alone contains 40 of them.
- Whole grains, as well as beans, are seeds and are the richest food sources of most essential vitamins and minerals, especially, vitamin E and the B complex.
- Once milled real whole grain flour begins to oxidize rapidly, promoting rancidity and spoilage and greatly diminishing the nutrient content.
- Real whole grains and breads made from freshly milled flour are key to improving the health of your family.
After more than 25 years of teaching others, we have heard countless testimonies of dramatically improved health – all from changing the bread they were eating.
Corn is the world leader in both consumption and production. It is a staple food for the majority of the world and is a great source of carbohydrates, protein, B vitamins, iron as well as other important minerals. Corn’s versatility perhaps surpasses all other grains in that it can be enjoyed fresh from the field as corn on the cob or dried in the field as dent or popcorn to be ground into flour and used for delicious breads and side dishes such as grits or polenta, or as a healthy whole grain snack, popcorn.
Numerous university studies have shown that corn has a higher antioxidant activity than most foods, including fruits and vegetables, and the prebiotic fiber significantly enhances the presence of friendly gut organisms. Corn is often termed a laxative grain for its good source of magnesium and yellow corn is a good source of two additional antioxidants, zeaxanthin and lutein, which are good for eye health.
Know Your Corn
- Sweet corn is picked from the field while the kernels are still soft and immature. This corn is consumed more as a vegetable than a grain. While corn on the cob fresh from the garden is a favorite, corn can be cut from the cob and enjoyed has whole kernel corn and added to bread, soups, stews and salads. (see recipe below).
- Dent or Field corn is corn that has been left in the field to dry on the cob. Its name comes from the small dent that forms in each kernel as it loses moisture. This is the kind of corn used as a grain for corn flour or meal, grits or polenta.
- Popcorn is a specific variety of corn that is also allowed to dry on the stalk but the kernel is more compact than dent corn and has a hard-moisture resistant hull. When heated, the steam created by its moisture content builds up inside the tough hull until the grain finally “explodes”. Popcorn can be popped or can be used like dent corn and ground into flour or grits. Popcorn tends to mill into a more coarse meal than the larger dent corn and some people say it makes the best cornbread. Popcorn is so easy to pop for yourself and our LeKue Microwave Popcorn Maker makes it both fast and easy. No need to be tempted to buy the microwave bags of popcorn that are loaded with unhealthy ingredients. Watch for our special and product demo.
Much of the corn grown in the US today is genetically modified. Though the varieties for sweet corn are usually not GMO, our recommendation is, if you don’t know your source (ie local farmer) buy organic. Field and dent corn are most commonly GMO so always buy organic or certified GMO free corn.
At Bread Beckers we offer both certified organic and certified GMO free. We have white, yellow, Blue and Indian dent corn and both white and yellow popcorn. Our certified non-GMO corn is grown by the Ute Mountain Indian Tribe. The corn crops grown on the 7,700 acre tribal farm is protected from cross contamination of outside strains.
Corn is truly an ancient grain and while it may not be as trendy or popular as some of the other ancient grains these day, you don’t want to miss out on its versatility and goodness.
This week’s recipe will include a delicious boiled grain salad which includes both boiled wheat and whole kernel corn. When corn and peaches are not in season I add more red bell pepper for the corn and frozen peaches for the fresh. This is an old favorite and will not disappoint. Either wheat or spelt can be used.