The Whole Grain and Nothing But the Grain (Part 2: Free Gluten)

Nita Sharda, Carrots and CakeA couple of posts back we talked about the goodness of whole grains and why grain-excluding diets aren’t so great after all. Today we’re going to shift your focus and delve into the increasingly popular gluten-free diet trend that has everyone going cross-eyed with confusion.

WHAT ON EARTH IS GLUTEN?

Well, I guess clarifying things would help. Let’s pause. Contrary to popular belief (thanks to loads and loads of marketing and misinformation) it is not some horrifyingly fattening, health-impeding substance that will cause you to drop dead. Gluten is a protein found in the center (endosperm) of wheat, barley, and rye. Physically speaking, it helps the grain maintain it’s shape and elasticity when used in baking or cooking.

NOT FOR EVERYONE

As wonderful as whole grains are (as previously established here), there are a few instances where they are not well tolerated. Celiac disease for example is an auto-immune disorder that affects 1% of the Canadian population. With this condition, gluten proteins are not digested or absorbed, leading to some pretty unpleasant symptoms and in severe cases, anaphylactic shock – yikes! Remember, in Celiac Disease there is an immune response.

To make matters more confusing we are also noticing a number of folks struggling with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Symptoms are similar to those of celiac disease but luckily the overall clinical picture is less severe. Folks with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity don’t experience an immune response per se, but they may feel groggy, bloated, experience pain, headaches etc when gluten is ingested. In these cases it is always best to STAY CLEAR of wheat.

If you suspect you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, contact a physician or Registered Dietitian to get some help.

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Gluten free brownies.

Nita Sharda, Carrots and Cake

Gluten containing yummy mac and cheese (veggified of course!).

BUYER BEWARE: GLUTEN-FREE vs HEALTHY

As the incidence of celiac disease increases, more and more gluten-free products are constantly becoming available on supermarket shelves. With this shift in the market, gluten-free products have been promoted as “healthy” or “trendy”, which is confusing to the average consumer. Note to self: the words “gluten-free” in bold on a package is not code for healthy. Gluten-free products when refined (ex. white rice crackers) can be just as harmful as the refined, gluten-containing grains described in the previous post.

For those who have trouble tolerating gluten, I recommend experimenting with gluten-free options such as amaranth, buckwheat, uncontaminated oats, quinoa or brown rice pasta to create healthy snacks and meals at home.

BUT IF I GO GLUTEN-FREE, I’LL LOSE WEIGHT RIGHT?

Think of it this way: when a person with celiac disease is properly diagnosed and begins a prescribed gluten-free diet, they may in fact gain weight since the malabsorption that was once happening subsides and they are better equipped to absorb the nutrients and calories they have been consuming. You heard me right! – gluten-free diets were actually intended for people to maintain their ideal weight, sometimes meaning weight gain.

Whether or not you lose weight on a gluten-free diet all depends on how you go gluten-free. Giving the boot to gluten-containing refined grains like white-flour bagels, pasta, and crackers, and processed snacks will definitely be an effective weight loss method if you are replacing them with wholesome, high fiber alternatives. However, if these gluten rich foods are replaced by hyper-processed gluten-free products weight loss isn’t a guarantee. Besides, it never truly is.

FREE GLUTEN

The stigma surrounding gluten deserves to be squashed! Consider how silly this sounds: “My friend is allergic to peanuts – therefore they must be terrible for my health and I must give them up immediately!” That would never fly in one million years – so why would we apply this mentality with gluten? (on a side note: you would have to pry the jar of PB out of my cold dead hands before I would give it up).

The takeaway:

whole grain, gluten-containing foods are absolutely A-OKAY in our books. Unless you have been properly diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance keep munching on whole-grain goodness!

Nita Sharda, Carrots and Cake

That’s Ceone rocking some gluten love.

If you’re not in a rush to leave this blog page, check out this video by Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy is notorious for his comedic ways, pranks and well, making us laugh a little more in our day. Enjoy.

Food photography and blog post written/captured by a talented student volunteer, Ceone Dyck. To learn more about Ceone click here or follow her on Facebook.

Don’t forget to follow Carrots and Cake on Instagram to see tiny square snap shots of my life.

                 – With Love, Carrots and Cake,

Carrots and Cake Nita Sharda

The Whole Grain and nothing but the Grain (Part 1)

Nita Sharda, Carrots and CakeAs soon as you type the word “diet” into your preferred internet search-engine, you’ll probably be met with results like “gluten-free,” “low-carb,” or “cutting out wheat for weight loss.” This grain-free diet trend has become increasingly popular, compliments of endorsements by many celebrities and Instagram stars. But before you write off grains for good, take a look at some of the top reasons we love whole grains, and why they’re essential to your health.

SO…. WHAT IS A WHOLE GRAIN?

What makes a whole grain whole? Well, really ALL grains start out as “whole.” The harvested seed is made up of three edible parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm.

  • The bran is the darker coloured, outer skin of the seed, which is where most of the antioxidants, B-vitamins, and fiber is stored.
  • The germ is the center embryo of the seed, which stores B-vitamins, but also protein, minerals, and healthy fat.
  • Lastly the endosperm, which is the largest portion of the seed, contains starchy carbohydrates, protein, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

When whole grains are refined, the bran and the germ are kicked to the curb, leaving all those wonderful and healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber behind. Whole grains are not refined, and because of that all parts of the seed are included in the final (healthy) product. Remember, you don’t want to go grain-free, you want to go whole grain.

THE GOOD STUFF

Clearly, those un-refined whole grains have got a lot of good things going on. Here are a few of the amazing benefits of whole grains:

  • Dietary fiber helps you feel fuller, faster, and longer. It also aids in digestion and promotes gut health. Fiber is found only in plant sources (nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), and grain fiber specifically has been shown to be protective against digestive cancers even more so than other forms of fiber. Beta-glucan, found in high concentration in both oats and barley, has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels remarkably. Personally, we love starting our day with a big bowl of oatmeal and fruit – which honestly keeps us feeling satisfied all the way until lunch.
  • B vitamins are metabolic champions which you need, in order to make use of all those other amazing super-powered nutrients you are consuming. These power house vitamins ensure that the food you consume is utilized and absorbed to the full extent so you can get the most out of your daily nutrient consumption! They also maintain healthy skin, hair, muscles, form red blood cells, and promote healthy immune & nervous system function – kind of incredible, right?
  • Minerals – such as zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, and iron are abundant in whole grains. Collectively, these compounds have the power to boost your immune system, regulate metabolism, reduce blood pressure, and keep your skin & hair looking healthy!

The moral of this story: whole grains keep you looking and feeling like the total 10 you are.

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Nita Sharda, Carrots and Cake

HIGH QUALITY VERSUS LOW QUALITY GRAIN

So, after reading that first section, it’s probably clear to you that not all grain products are created equal in terms of nutrient value. It’s important to choose the right grain products in order to get all those wonderful benefits described above. Refined grains, which is the bulk of what people consume today since they’re the bulk of what’s stocked on market shelves, have been linked to obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes – whoa! Just about the exact opposite effect of whole grains. That can feel overwhelming, but here’s something to hold on to: little changes in your diet can make a huge difference. (psst, looking to make smart goals, click here). Look for the words “whole wheat flour” or “100% whole grains” as opposed to “enriched wheat flour” or “wheat flour” on the ingredient lists of your favourite grain products. Or, even better, opt to make more snacks and meals at home ahead of time with a healthy whole grain flour (try whole-wheat flour, oat flour, buckwheat, or spelt). And hey! Bake these super seedy chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour, you won’t regret it I promise!

Drumroll please…. a few of my favourite whole, unrefined grain swaps are:

  • Overnight oats as a replacement for boxed breakfast-cereal (get the recipe here)
  • Quinoa or brown rice noodles as a replacement for white rice in stir-fry or soup
  • 100% whole wheat wraps to replace refined, white flour sandwich bread
  • Whole-wheat or oat flour to replace white flour in baking (replacing even half is a great way to start)

It is important to note that a lot of whole grain products on the grocery shelf today get a bad rep for being “unhealthy” due to some of the other ingredients included in their making. For instance, certain brands of 100% whole wheat bread, crackers, or pre-packaged snacks may also contain high levels of sodium, sugar, or additives which are admittedly not so great. Because of this, often the whole grains themselves take the blame. The best way to avoid some of those unhealthy extras is to incorporate unprocessed whole grains into cooking or baking at home and get familiar with reading nutrition labels.

Nita Sharda, Carrots and Cake

TO SUM IT ALL UP

Whole grains are the BOMB! (The capitalization is totally needed, I promise!). Whole grains are jam-packed with nutrients, energy, and overall deliciousness, so they make a great addition to just about anyone’s diet. Now that you’ve received a brief grain education (you are hereby granted your diploma in grain education!) you are ready to navigate the grocery store and pick out some seriously nutritious whole grains! Go forth, be adventurous, and enjoy adding those amazing whole grains into your life!

Food photography done by the talented Ceone Dyck. To learn more about Ceone click here or follow her on Facebook.

Don’t forget to follow Carrots and Cake on Instagram to see tiny square snap shots of my life.

                 – With Love, Carrots and Cake,

Carrots and Cake Nita Sharda