In the second installment of the Debunking Superfoods series, we discuss whole grains, which are grain products that keep the husky outside parts of the grain after processing. To save everyone time, I am going to lump all of the grains in this category together, including whole wheat/grain bread, chia seeds, whole wheat tortillas, quinoa, brown rice, etc. (If you want a detailed look at one or more of these items, let us know.)
Whole grains have been marketed for healthy eating for decades. If we listen to a popular celebrity talk about their usual daily meals, it will more than likely contain a whole grain item. To begin our look into these items, let’s talk about the good news with whole grains. Whole grains often contain a lot of fiber which can help with clearing digestive tracts. The fiber can also help keep you fuller longer, which is helpful with appetite control. If you are needing a snack to hold you over until the next full meal, a whole grain food will probably be the best choice. However, as with nearly anything in life, these foods have their downsides and may not be quite so deserving of the “superfood” label put on them.
Many have stated refined grains (like white flour, white rice, flour tortillas, etc.) are not a smart choice when compared to whole grains because it instantly metabolizes into sugar, spelling bad news for diabetics. Yet, according to a study done by Weizmann Institute of Science, participants were divided, with one half testing white bread and the other testing whole grain sourdough bread. The test found that some patients had high blood sugar spikes from white bread and some had spikes from the sourdough bread. This is because the way our bodies metabolize food is unique to each individual. Food sensitivities cannot be underestimated or given some sort of wide brush of application to any consumer. One person can be born with a sensitivity to one thing and another can be born without that sensitivity, but a sensitivity to something else entirely.
Another marketing claim about whole grains is that they are a better source of carbohydrates, multiple nutrients, and dietary fiber that are usually lost due to refinement. However, this claim is not as reliable as one might think. Per the FDA, from a labeling claim dispute with Kraft, it was specified that “Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.” This does not rule out refined grains at all, and there has been no evidence to characterize whole grains as better than refined when looking at lifestyle. “The scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) related to health claims on gut health/bowel function, weight control, blood glucose/insulin levels, weight management, blood cholesterol, satiety, glycaemic index, digestive function and cardiovascular health is ‘that the food constituent, whole grain, is not sufficiently characterised in relation to the claimed health effects’ and ‘that a cause and effect relationship cannot be established between the consumption of whole grain and the claimed effects considered in this opinion.” This shows that as long as you include healthier, plant-based options to balance the starch, it is still considered a healthy choice.
Ingredients can also be manipulated to capitalize on the whole grain trend. Whole wheat or whole grain bread can be marketed as such even though it’s made with the same refined flour. To look darker, coloring agents like caramel color can be added. This is a reminder to educate yourself. Read the labels on your food so you aren’t lead into a false sense of health.
To make matters even tougher for consumers, many scientifically based articles I found in my research (some which even advocated the myths above) were supported by the “Journal of Nutrition”, published by the American Institute for Nutrition, the owners of nutrition.org. The Institute has had a checkered past and was exposed on Marion Nestle’s website, food politics. They are sponsored by such wonderful supporters of modern health like DuPont, Bayer, General Mills, Nestle, Kellogg, Mars Inc., Pepsico, Dannon, Coca-Cola, and Pfizer. Whole grains may have some legitimate health benefits, but the fact that much of the scientific research findings for whole grain benefits are sponsored by companies that are literally buying up all the water, land and life on our planet makes it suspect, to say the least.
As with the majority of superfoods, whole grains are still food, so consuming normal portions of it is not going to kill you. Buying the product is not going to instantly turn you into someone enabling a corrupt system just because you switched to wheat bread on your sandwiches. It is a packaged food item, so controversy is going to follow it. However, knowledge is power, right? The more we know about the foods we are preparing to buy, the happier we can feel about our impact on the world. Also, if the fact these corporations are possibly manipulating scientific research in order to sell products bothers you, TELL THEM. Call their corporate offices, and while you’re at it, find out if your local and state governments take money from these corporations for stadiums, advertisements in schools, or special treatment for resources. Remember, apathy is acceptance.
As far as health, a balanced diet has been the key to healthy eating. If you want more information about what eating style is best for you, contact your doctor. Your body holds the key to what is best for your health.
Stay well and I’ll see you next week for another debunking!
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