Adding grains to your family’s diet is so important for extra vitamins, minerals and fibre. However, when presented with options of grains to choose from, there are many. It is helpful to differentiate between the various types of grains and their specific benefits to your nutritional requirements.
Gluten, a name for the proteins found in wheat, barley and rye, is often known to cause digestive problems. People with celiac disease or who are gluten-intolerant often have to avoid gluten altogether, whilst others with less severe side effects complain of occasional bloating, cramping or nausea.
A study published in the British Medical Journal found that pregnant women consuming a large amount of gluten (20mg/day or more) were more likely to have children that developed Type 1 diabetes later on in life.
However, if you are able to tolerate gluten, there are many advantages to adding these grains to your diet in moderation.
Barley contains vitamins B and E, calcium, iron, magnesium and an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin and can be useful in combating insomnia. Rye has vitamins A and B and is a good source of fibre. Unfortunately a lot of our sources of wheat today are extensively processed and refined, stripping the wheat of most of its nutrients.
Some options of gluten-free grains are buckwheat, millet and quinoa. Buckwheat contains vitamin A, selenium and rutin, a plant flavonoid which helps with blood circulation and lowers cholesterol, therefore looking after the functioning of your heart. Millet contains iron and magnesium whilst quinoa is known as a “superfood” and thought to be the most nutritious of all the grains. It is rich in protein, carbohydrates and good fats with E and B vitamins and a great antioxidant. These grains also help to stabilize blood sugar and keep your energy levels higher for longer.
It has been recommended that you soak your grains overnight before cooking them, especially when giving them to babies, as this makes them easier to digest. This is beneficial for a baby whose digestive system is still maturing and often needs assistance in whichever way possible. Most grains contain phytic acid which inhibits nutrient absorption in the body and soaking the grains helps to destroy this phytic acid.
In South Africa, at most of our well-baby clinic check-ups, a first food recommended for babies is rice cereal. This unfortunately is outdated advice, as rice cereal is very refined with hardly any nutritional benefits due to the process used to make and preserve it. It is often merely a way to keep your baby full. I believe we should always choose foods as close to whole and raw as possible, for ourselves and our babies or children. Be careful not to just take advice before doing your own research.
The best part about grains is that they can be added to almost any meal. Start the day off with a cinnamon and banana quinoa porridge, add some oats to your morning smoothie or follow our posts to get awesome recipe ideas on roast vegetable or mediterranean salads with grains as a base.
They are also so easy to prepare. I often make two batches of grains on a Sunday (takes 15 minutes to cook) and store them in the fridge to add to various meals for the week ahead. They also freeze well and defrost quickly. I freeze batches to add to my baby food where necessary.
So get up and get your grains in. Add more health to every meal.