I grew up eating regular old white on white spaghetti. As a runner in college, it was a major staple in my diet and that of my team mates. Pasta with sauce. Pasta with butter. Pasta with nothing on it. I’m guessing I ate two pounds or more per week back than.
I remember the first time my wife Sylvia cooked whole grain pasta for dinner. I could hardly choke it down. Why would anyone eat this stuff? It had the consistency of cardboard.
For many years I staunchly opposed whole grain pasta, whole grain crackers, whole grain bagels, etc. I liked whole grain breads, so at least I showed some open mindedness. I just could not understand the need for whole grain this and that.
After I wrote 50 Athletes Over 50, I submersed myself in understanding all aspects of healthy aging. I researched sleep, exercise, stress, supplements, and nutrition. I learned so much that I decided to write another book, which is currently in the works. While writing the chapter on nutrition, it finally hit me why we need whole grain foods. Let me share my current take on this, and if you are like I was, maybe you too will drop the white stuff from your diet too.
First, some basic info about carbohydrates. Carbohydrate or “carbs” are made up of fairly simple arrangements of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. They are easily broken down in our bodies into glucose, which is the primary energy source for all the tissues in our bodies. Carbohydrates do not play a significant role in the structure or function of the cells that make up the tissues of our bodies, and their primary role is an energy source for our bodies. Carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables, and grains and when used for energy, yield about 4 calories per gram.
Fiber is a special type of carbohydrate. It comes from the fibrous parts of plants, which often form their skins, spines, and cores. Nearly all vegetables, fruits, and grains have significant fiber content in their natural forms. Food companies tend to remove fiber from grains to make them easier to eat and make them taste better. Overcooking and peeling fruits and vegetables also reduce their fiber content.
Our bodies cannot break down and use fiber for energy. Despite this fact, fiber does play important roles in our dietary health. There are two types of fiber and each has a different role in our digestive health. Soluble fiber dissolves readily in water and therefore breaks down in our digestive tract where it is fermented by bacteria. This fermentation produce gas and other physiologically active substances that are in general good for us. Insoluble fiber is not easily dissolved in our intestines and serves the purpose of helping move material through our digestive tract faster and more easily.
OK, now that you maybe know a little more about how fiber and carbohydrates are related, let me tell you why I have all but dropped while breads and pasta from my diet.
1) In their natural form, grains have lots of fiber. Food “manufacturers”, remove the fiber simply to make the food taste better and to make it easier to eat. We are genetically programmed to like things that taste sweet, and removing the fiber, makes grains taste sweeter. Given the trend of increasing obesity on our planet, we need sweeter grains that are easy to eat like we need a hole in the head. I’m not typically one to take a moral stand, but for this I make an exception. I don’t want to support the food manufacturers that create foods that are bad for the planet.
I also find it ironic that there is an industry set up around fiber supplements, when we go through the bother of removing fiber from so much of our food in teh first place. I guess the game is to take it out, so that it can be sold to us as supplements. Hmmmmm.
2) Once fiber is removed from grains, it not only makes them taste better, but this process also makes it much easier for your digestive tract to break the food down into glucose. You may have heard the term “glycemic index.” A food’s glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly your blood sugar rises after ingesting the food. When blood sugar spikes after ingestion of a high GI food, insulin levels then spike. It is suspected that this insulin demand is part of the reason that high GI diets have been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Adult Macular Degeneration of the eye, and some cancers.
I guess that as I’ve gotten older I have become much more concerned with being on the planet for a while more. This is more motivation for me to stay away from the white stuff.
3) While I bust on the food industry in item #1, I have to say that they have come a long way in recent years in making whole grain foods that taste great. There are whole grain substitutes for just about every form of grain based foods. Take note next time you are in the grocery store of just how many options you have for whole grain pasta now. There used to be very few.
So there they are, my three main reasons for switching to whole grains and dropping white, processed carbohydrates from my diet. I can’t say that I have totally eliminated them, but I choose whole grains whenever I can.
I hope you found this post informative and that maybe next time you are deciding what to eat, you will lean towards whole grains.