Thursday, January 9, 2014

Whole Grains in Pregnancy

There is a chance that you will encounter grains at every meal of your day. The wheat berry taken from the fields will have been processed and milled into flour, and served at your table as a loaf of bread, or baked good in some form or fashion. While grains have gotten a seriously bad rap in the recent past, they are not the food villains some foodies make them out to be. Traditionally prepared sprouted or soaked whole grains have been a staple food for thousands of years for a variety of cultures.  References to grains are even found throughout the Bible. Grains are versatile, easy to cook, and relatively inexpensive, making them a necessary addition to a pregnant and nursing mother's life.

Dr. Weston Price (1870-1948) was a Cleveland dentist who began searching for the causes of dental decay and physical degeneration. While searching the globe, he found answers among isolated groups of people in various societies with perfect teeth, minimal evidence of tooth decay and physical degeneration or disease. Dr. Price moved his laboratory to these isolated societies and studied their diets. His analysis found that isolated peoples living off of their traditional diets were provided four times the amounts of calcium and minerals, along with ten times the fat soluble vitamins than their modern neighbors eating processed foods.

Dr. Price found that isolated populations eating a traditional diet prepared their grains much differently than their modern neighbors. While their modern neighbors ate processed white breads full of sugar and  milled flour, the traditional societies minimally milled their grains, and either sprouted or soaked grains for long periods of time before eating.

The science behind traditional diets shows whole grains require proper preparation in order to remove anti-nutrients; phytic acid being a significant culprit. Phytic acid in whole grains can bind with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc and bind absorption of these minerals. A diet high in improperly prepared grains has the potential for bone loss, mineral deficiencies, along with plenty of disease processes, including chronic abdominal pain,  irritable bowel syndrome, decreased resistance to immunity, mental health disorders, etc. This can create significant problems when growing a baby, and breastfeeding.

Another culprit includes gluten. Everywhere you look, you will find an emphasis on "gluten-free" foods. As stated earlier, products from wheat hit the table at almost every meal. Due to the increasing emphasis on the inability to digest gluten, along with the myriad of health problems associated with ingesting gluten, a large amount of the modern population has chosen to remove gluten from the diet. This has lead to an explosion in the gluten-free market. While this has the potential to improve some of the health problems associated with gluten ingestion, the processed substitutes for gluten are not much better.

As stated by Sally Fallon in her book, Nourishing Traditions, a review of traditional peoples and their recipes from around the globe reveal simple grain preparations with minimal or no amounts of processing. Traditional Europeans baked slow rise breads created from fermented starters; American pioneers were famous for sourdough breads, pancakes, and biscuits (remember Little House on the Prairie....) Oriental and Latin American rice recipes called for brown rice to receive a long fermentation process before consumption. In Africa, the natives soaked corn or millet at least eight hours to create a porridge called ogi. The Welsh similarly prepared oats by soaking overnight to create a hardy oatmeal and oatcakes. Teff, an ancient Ethiopian grain, was fermented for several days before becoming injera bread. In India, rice and lentils were fermented to create idli and dosas; and Mexican corn cakes, called pozol were fermented in banana leaves for up to two weeks.

While we can't go back to traditional times, and there are currently few cultures Dr. Price studied who are still eating their traditional diets; it is possible to consume our grains like our ancestors. If you are not ready to make the leap to traditional preparation of grains, there are plenty of  products on the shelves available to get you started. Look for organic, stone ground, sprouted or sour dough whole grain products and eat them with a fat source such as real butter or cheese to get the most nutrients from your grains.

For those who love to experiment and cook, my favorite cookbook written by a woman dedicated to following Dr. Price's food philosophy, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats can help you get started on the soaked and sprouted road. While it may take a little more time and exploration than grabbing a muffin off the shelf; I guarantee you that your future children will thank you for it.

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