If it weren’t for whole grains we would not be here. Our ancestors would have starved during long winters when wild game was scarce. If it were not for whole grains, your cat would not lie snoozing in your lap. Cats were domesticated in ancient Egypt to protect stored grains against mice. Grains were the beginning of civilization as we know it–settled families with a home and garden, domesticated livestock, and a year round source of protein and minerals. While the hunter gatherers were off somewhere hunting and gathering, later civilized peoples ranging from India and China to Ethiopia raised, ate and stored grains. Grains are still the most widely consumed nutritious foods throughout the world.
Traditional methods of agriculture and correct cooking methods preserve grains’ multiple rich health benefits. Whole grains with the husk and germ are highly nutritious, contain good amounts of vital nutrients, including manganese which is useful for liver function, minerals such as calcium, magnesium, selenium, and fiber. Selenium is an essential trace mineral that assists with cognitive function and fertility. Selenium may help prevent cardiovascular disease, thyroid problems, cognitive decline, disorders related to thinking, cancer, and others. Fiber, we know, helps detoxify the body and speed digestion. This blog introduces one of the foundations of Roger Green’s “Longevity Diet” whole grains a delicious, inexpensive way to stay healthy.
Roger Green’s “Longevity Diet” features beneficial ways to process, cook and combine wholesome foods for our highest physical, mental and spiritual benefits. His students follow the teachings online and in class throughout a year’s study. This is a brief introduction. Components of the “Longevity Diet” include whole grains, which are soaked to remove hard to digest acids and whole grain products, pulses (sprouts), vegetables, seaweeds, fish, meats, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds, healthy natural oils and animal fats not artificially manufactured cheap vegetable oils, select seasonal fruits, pickled and fermented foods that support healthy gut bacteria, and beverages especially teas.
Why do we eat whole grains? They are highly nutritious, satisfying, grounding, easy to find, inexpensive, clean and delicious. Our stomach and spleen are grain processing factories. Grains burn slower than meats and, therefore, help to balance blood sugar. Blood sugar spikes up quickly after eating meat then drops. Grains are an excellent source of dietary fiber and contains manganese, selenium, tryptophan, magnesium, vitamins and protein. Fiber can be soluble or insoluble. Resistant Starch such as white rice cooked with coconut oil, then cooled and stored in the refrigerator, is not soluble. It does not easily break down like cooked brown rice. The point of Resistant Starch is that it ferments in the gut to support gut bacteria. It is not eaten for the dense nutrition that we get from cooked brown rice or other grains, it is basically a fiber like a pre-biotic supplement that starts digestion. The “Longevity Diet” supports gut bacteria with fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and pickles. Enjoy some daily.
I never discard old pickle juice but continually add chopped vegetables that might otherwise be discarded—aging celery, carrots, sliced, onion, radish, ginger, bitter melon or sliced peeled burdock root, salt and black pepper along with garlic, herbs and spices such as turmeric, cumin, caraway, chili pepper, bay leaf, or dill. Make your own flavors. The ferment happens all by itself in a few days. Sauerkraut is basically thinly sliced, blanched cabbage and a little salt pressed down into a sterile jar. Leave one inch of room at the top of the jar so that the gases can expand without leaking. The longer it ferments out of the refrigerator, the more sour it tastes. Discard it if it becomes discolored or smells spoiled.
To get the best benefits from grains, nuts and seeds, and to ease digestion we soak them overnight to remove hard to digest acids. Toasting grains also improves their flavor. Grains provide antioxidants, help prevent the oxidation of other chemicals in the production of energy in the body and that help to provide sustained energy.
Some food theorists and fad diets express a “carb phobia” because they believe grains cause inflammation, especially inflammation of blood vessels that may damage the heart. It is true that the basis of many chronic diseases is inflammation. However not all grains are warming and a great deal is determined by how they are grown, processed and cooked. Steaming rice is more cooling than baking flour and adding sugar to make cakes and cookies. Some people, not all, are gluten sensitive. I have had health clients whose numb extremities have improved with enhanced circulation by giving up certain high-gluten grains. They eat rice not wheat. In Chinese medicine rice affects stomach and spleen, while rice affects liver and the nerves. So there are individual cases to consider. Much of the inflammation that we have in our body comes from other aspects of diet (sugar, alcohol, smoking, caffeine, drying foods etc.) as well as environmental poisons, pollution, harsh chemicals and electro-magnetic pollution. If you use a microwave, cell phone, flat screen television, or wifi you are bombarding your space and yourself with unnatural energy. Inflammation is our body’s response to an unnatural environment.
What is a true whole grain? It is not a hybridized modern variety or GMO genetically modified product. True whole grains contain both the seed and fruit of the plant. They are cereal grains that retain the bran and the germ as well as the endosperm (the starch component of the grain), in contrast to refined grains, which retain only the endosperm. They include brown rice, barley, rye, various forms of wheat, corn, oats, and sorghum. They are rich in B vitamins, and most offer an excellent source of manganese, selenium and other minerals including stress-reducing magnesium.
Whole grain brown rice is said to strengthen the spleen, an organ of digestion that is key for blood sugar balance and, according to Chinese medicine, helps to preserve our shape (reduce edema when the spleen is healthy) and keep blood within blood vessels (help prevent bruising by building up the resilience of blood vessels.) When the “spleen is weak,” our health clients may crave sweets, have a spare tire of water retention made worse by stress.
Worry is said to damage the spleen. There is no better word for the everyday stress hormone imbalance of excess cortisol than “worry.” Cortisol is necessary. It helps to control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. All of these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect safety, overall health and wellbeing. Stress triggers a combination of signals from both hormones and nerves. These signals cause our adrenal glands to release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. The result is an increase in heart rate and energy as part of the fight-or-flight response, our body’s way of preparing itself for potentially dangerous or harmful situations. Sometimes chronic stress (worry) fails to turn off the fight-or-flight response. We get stuck in high-speed.
What happens when stress creates too much cortisol?
- weight gain, mostly around the midsection and upper back
- weight gain and rounding of the face
- thinning skin
- easy bruising
- flushed face
- slow healing injuries
- muscle weakness
- severe fatigue
- difficulty concentrating
- high blood pressure
Barley is more cooling in nature then other grains and is said to “tonify the liver and gallbladder.” It helps to reduce phlegm, is diuretic (increases urination.) Barley (called coix) is added to some Chinese herbal forumlas to reduce asthma congestion. Unpearled barley contains more fiber, twice the calcium, three times more iron and 25% more protein than pearl barley. For edema and excess phlegm, a simple recipe is barley and parsley soup. Soaking grains overnight reduces cooking time and aids in assimilation.
Rye is popular in rye bread, often made with caraway seeds. Both improve digestion. Rye is said to “reduce liver stagnation” which means bile can more easily flow to ease bloating and speed digestion. Bile is a bitter, laxative fluid that our body makes to improve the final stages of digestion. Rye is more bitter than some other grains. In general the bitter taste helps to cleanse dietary toxins, for example laxative bitter greens. Because of its cleansing effects, rye helps to renew arteries. It, like many other grains, is a good source of the trace mineral manganese which contributes to many bodily functions, including the metabolism of amino acids, cholesterol, glucose, and carbohydrates. Manganese also plays a role in bone formation, blood clotting, and reducing inflammation. According to some sources, manganese is especially helpful for people with Wood Element problems (liver, gallbladder, muscles, joints, ligaments, vision, circulation and digestion of fats.)
Wheat is cooling and nourishing, a good source of fiber, manganese, and tryptophan. Of the top three grains most grown in the world (wheat, corn and rice) providing over 60% of the plant calories that we consume, China grows the most wheat. GMO corn (maize) is most often produced in America, 40% of which is grown to produce ethanol alcohol fuel and 36% is used as livestock food. Most states do not label whether or not corn for human food is GMO.
Unfortunately, commercially grown wheat with its high concentration of chemicals, and rancid oxidise flour products often provoke allergic reactions. Some people who are sensitive to these products, may tolerate properly prepared whole
wheat or sprouted wheat. Also many people with whole wheat allergies do not react to spelt which is warming, generally higher in protein, fat and fiber then most other varieties of wheat. Spelt provides an excellent source of vitamin B-2. What does B-2 Do? Riboflavin (B-2) is a vitamin that is needed for growth and overall good health. It helps the body break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats to produce energy, and it allows oxygen to be used by the body.
Winter wheat grain is hard and summer wheat is softer like a sweet kernel. See how they are labeled “summer” or “winter” wheat. My favorite way to fix summer wheat is to make sprout bread. Soak and rinse whole grain kernels of soft organic summer wheat in water. If it is not organic it will spoil and cannot be used. After it is sprouts, grind the mash, add spices like cinnamon, cardamom, stevia to sweeten, a little black cumin oil or coconut oil, caraway to absorb phlegm, raisins and or soaked nuts. Place the mash into a thick ceramic bowl on the bottom of your slow cooker (crockpot) that has about 1/2 to 1 inch of water on the bottom. Slow cook on low heat to steam the bread, covered tightly, for about eight – ten hours. Remove and cool the bread completely before serving.
Traditional oats as in Gramma’s oatmeal, not the flash-pan instant, are warming and nourishing enough to feed horses. Cooked oatmeal eaten for breakfast overtime can help lower cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, connective tissue, and calm the nervous system. It is a supreme food for stressed-out big city “race-horses.” Beautiful Inga Bylinkina, one of the excellent teacher/cooks at the Academy of Healing Nutrition, teaches us how to prepare a great oatmeal breakfast dish. Born in Russia, she has great skin and thick, silky red-brown hair from being raised with a varied farm/forest diet of vegetables, grains and meats. Strong and graceful, a dancer, she now lives in Iceland but teaches in New York and London for the Academy. Her oatmeal is soaked overnight with a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to remove the phytic acid which can interfere with the absorption of vital minerals. Then next day she cooks the rinsed oats adding balanced favors of goji berry, coconut flakes, lemon peel, a source of calcium, and butter. In colder winter months she might add dried mulberries a rejuvenating tonic herb.
My Hungarian Gramma cooked oatmeal, which she called “pooridge,” adding crisp bacon on top. The use of a healthy oil or fat helps to keep blood sugar in balance. She lived into her mid-nineties, painting oil landscapes and gardening. It’s comforting to know that our long-lived ancestors, traditional cooks, knew something useful and delicious. We will continue to look at beneficial grains and seeds in the following blog.
My painting is “Inga Bylinkina: Fire in Ice”