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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Case Against Grains


Grains such as wheat (bread, pasta), oats, barley, rye, rice and quinoa (commonly called a grain but actually a seed) are available and affordable, and whole grains can be modestly nutritious. Refined grains, as in baked goods, most breads, cereals, pastas, bagels, buns and tortillas, are nutritionally bereft. The fiber has been extracted, along with most of the vitamins and minerals. Instead of eating a piece of bread, you may as well devour handfuls of white sugar. Seriously.

Availability, affordability and modest nutrition make whole grains a satisfactory part of a semi-healthy diet, or alternatives to animal foods, but grains are by no means a perfect food. Beans, which are also available and affordable, are nutritionally far superior to grains. And beans come ready-made.

We know what you are thinking: “Beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat the more you fart,” and so on. Yes, we've heard this one too. And yes, people often blame their digestive difficulties on the high fiber content of beans. This is simply not the case. As we've shown, many fruits and vegetables including leafy greens and berries have more fiber than even the most fibrous of legumes. In fact, raspberries have over twice as much fiber as pinto beans, yet no one says fruit makes you fart. In truth, fiber facilitates digestion. Foods lacking water and fiber, such as meat and cheese, pose the real threat to gut function. They sit in your intestines for days, fodder for colonic bacteria to ferment, and you know what those little critters produce? Methane (just like cows) and hydrogen gas. That's right, gas. And while the gas at the pumps may smell good to some people, the gas from your gut stinks. You may think it smells like roses, but we beg to differ!

While it is true that GI distress can result from taking in large amounts of fiber at a sitting, for example from bran cereal, which can have as much as 30 grams of fiber per cup, and no water, you are not likely to consume too many beans (15 grams of fiber per cup) to trouble your track, especially if you eat beans with vegetables, as sprinkled over a salad.

No, gastrointestinal trouble associated with eating beans is due in most cases to poor food combination. Concentrated (high calorie) foods including rice, tortillas, meat and cheese tax the gut on their own, all the more so if added to the oligosaccharides (starch) present in beans. Soaking beans for one to two days before cooking removes much of these starches and vastly improves digestion, as does eating them with raw or lightly cooked vegetables. Canned beans, so-called poor man's food, are rich in nutrition, inexpensive and convenient. They are packaged in water, so the soaking is done for you. Be sure to select brands with no ingredients other than water (with or without salt), and rinse and strain them well before enjoying. This helps remove the starch residues, and also improves the taste. Start with ½ of a can of canned beans per day, and throw out the grains. We mean all that rice and flour, all that bread and barley. Grains just don't match up.

Tale of the Taste

1 can of black beans (1.5 cups)
340 calories
23 grams protein
22.5 grams of fiber
25% or more of the daily value of 6 nutrients

vs.

1.5 cups cooked brown rice
320 calories
7.5 grams protein
5.2 grams of fiber
25% or more of 3 nutrients

Notice the difference. Beans have 3 times the protein in brown rice and over 4 times the fiber, in addition to 2 times the nutrients.

Even quinoa (pronounced keen-WA), highly touted in the health food industry, does not match up to the protein, fiber or nutritional density of the humble bean, which has twice the fiber and twice the protein.

1.6 cups (300 grams) quinoa
360 calories
12 grams protein
9 grams fiber
25% or more of 5 nutrients

Conclusion: Eat your Beans.