This is a common theme of inquiries I get from my patient’s. There seems to be confusion around a lot of the health advice that is thrown out to the public. Most likely because advice seems to be changing constantly, who can keep up? White bread and buzz words/phrases like “refined carbohydrates”, “white flour”, and “enriched” seem to be floating around. So what’s the deal?
What are Refined Carbohydrates?
Let’s start from the top. “Refined” carbohydrates or grains are grains that have had their fiber removed from them. They are generally more processed and “enriched” means they are easily digestible. This is an underlying theme with health advice and food advice—the ease of digestibility. You’d think that the easier the better for our body, the less our body has to work. But, in reality it means that they are absorbed into our system so fast our body has to work really hard to, quick, get them out of our blood stream. Especially as we talk about carbohydrates and spiking our blood sugars/blood glucose post meal. With a quick and high spike in blood sugar, our body’s pancreas works to release insulin into our blood stream which allows all of that glucose to be taken into our cells and used for energy.
Beta cells are our body’s insulin makers and they will work over time to make sure glucose is taken care of. The danger here is, we only have a certain amount of beta cells. As we over work them, they can work too hard and die. This is how diseases like diabetes develops in an individual over time—a lifetime of a bad diet. Signs and symptoms of diabetes occur around 70-80% of beta cell death.
White flour vs. Whole Wheat vs. Whole Grain
White flour is a refined carbohydrate. The refining of flour excludes parts of the grain seed like the germ and the bran, where fiber and other nutrients including vitamin B and protein live. Whole wheat bread attempts to keep the germ and the bran and whole grains do it best.
When carbohydrates are ingested with other macronutrients like fat and protein, the absorption of glucose into the body occurs at a slower rate. This slows down the immediate need for a large amount of insulin and decreases stress on our beta cells. Consuming the entire grain and adding more fiber in your diet allows for ingestion of minerals like Vitamin B1, B2, and B3, iron, folate (vitamin B9), magnesium, and selenium.
In addition to increase in minerals and nutrients, we see an increase body functions like forming new cells, carrying oxygen in the blood, thyroid regulation, and immune system boosts. BONUS- fiber makes us feel full longer and satiated therefore helping us with weight loss.
How do I increase my whole grains for more gainzzz
Foods high in whole grains include:
- Whole grain bread/sprouted bread
- Graham flour
- Oatmeal- steel cut oats
- Brown rice (vs. white enriched rice)
- Wild rice
When you’re buying something like bread, check out the ingredients. Many “whole wheat” breads on the market will list whole wheat in their ingredients and also list white enriched flour. Unfortunately, white enriched flour products tend to be lights and fluffier in breads! Whole grain and sprouted breads tend to be denser. Disclosure: rye bread and rye wheat still include white enriched flour in their products.
All white rice, except Jasmine rice, are enriched products. Brown and wild rice are better choices but personally, I like to use barley more and more to mix things up.
Making small swaps throughout diet pattern to incorporate more whole grains is a smart way to make lasting changes. If you’re an athlete who shakes their head at the idea of spiking your glucose and worrying about beta cell death, that’s okay. Whole grains are ideal for athletes working on meeting their macronutrient diets or keeping yourself full with a small, low carb snack. Not to mention the benefits of the vitamins and minerals that whole grains provide. Magnesium and selenium as well as the vitamin B family are fantastic for muscle recovery. Each of these minerals are powerful antioxidants that help the inflammatory process in your body which in turn will help with your athletic potential while you train. Whole grains for the win!
By Anna Blessing, MS, CCRP