Find Your Balance, Part 2: Whole Grains

Photo courtesy:  Precision Nutrition

Earlier this year, we began exploring balance, a concept that gets thrown around in pop culture, magazines and on TV. We are fascinated by what it really means and how we can explore it.

In the first Balance story, we looked at sleep, and encouraged you to let yourself get seven nights of really good, long sleep. How did that go?

Today, we’re diving into food–one food, specifically: Whole grains. Now before you go running in the other direction screaming “CARBS!!” we need to talk about what carbs are, what they are not, and why we need them in our bodies. So here’s a little class on carbs:

First, there are two types of carbs, simple and complex, and they couldn’t be more different…

What are simple carbs?

Simple carbs break down easily and are digested too quickly by the body, causing a rush of blood sugar, among a host of other imbalances.

Simple carbs include: Sugar-laden foods (soda, chocolate, ice cream, candy), bread, cupcakes, cookies, pancakes, corn chips. You name it: if it’s sweet, or made from flour, it’s a simple carb. Most plants that are refined from a natural food (whizzed, crushed, pulverized) become simple carbs. For example, a stalk of sugar cane getting refined into those little white crystals. The act of refining the food causes it to lose fiber, vitamins and minerals, making it more volatile in the body.

These are the carbs we should be running from. Or walking, at least. Not only do they make you gain weight quickly and easily, they upset all your hormones, and have been linked to just about every health problem known to woman, including diabetes, heart disease and bad PMS. They knock you off balance, quickly and decisively.

Some of us may have grown up eating at Pizza Hut or McDonald’s, and it’s still fine to eat some of these items on occasion.  But the truth is, they’re not really foods, per se. In fact, refined sugar is considered an anti-nutrient because it pulls minerals and vitamins out of the body in order to be metabolized. Soooo not good! These foods are splurges, and should be treated as such.

What are complex carbs?

Complex carbs come from whole foods–the actual foods that pop up through the soil. They have not been broken, refined, pulverized or whizzed into anything. These carbs—found in grains, vegetables, and beans are the good carbs, and your body craves them. They give smooth, sustainable energy, strengthen digestion, calm the nervous system, and are good for your hormones, heart and brain. You cannot go wrong with complex carbs, and today we look at whole grains as one of the best ways to get them.

So what are whole grains?

Brown rice (as opposed to white rice, or rice noodles): Brown rice can be long-grain, short-grain, or even medium-grain. It can be called brown Basmati, red Wehani, or black Japonica. The point is that it’s a grain of rice that has not been refined.

Whole wheat berries (as opposed to white or whole wheat flour products): Most people don’t eat these much, because we are so accustomed to eating wheat as bread, but you can find these whole grains at Whole Foods Market in the bulk section. Great for mixing with veggies to make a grain salad.

Quinoa: You’re probably familiar with quinoa, the recently discovered superfood from the Andes in South America. High in protein, and gluten-free, quinoa is a great whole grain. You can eat it on its own, mixed with vegetables, or even in a soup.

Whole oats: Whole oats are creamy, delicious and strengthening. They’ll give you horsepower! Rolled oats count as whole oats, although they’re oxidized when rolled, so their beneficial properties are slightly reduced.

Whole barley: You’ve probably had pearl barley in soup before, but whole barley (also known as hulled barley) is even better for you. You can find it at good health food stores and some Whole Foods Markets. Perfect for a light barley summer salad!

Millet: These tiny yellow grains were a staple food in China for thousands of years. Millet is great for stabilizing blood sugar. And yes, it’s in bird food.

How will they help me?

These foods will make you feel fantastic and deeply satisfied (you will be less inclined to snack). You will feel clear-headed, connected to your whole body, and full of stable, peaceful energy. Instead of slowing down your metabolism (like simple carbs do), whole grains will speed it up, helping most people to lose unnecessary pounds. If you suffer from constipation or other digestive issues, whole grains will help things move correctly.

Why are they so good again?

Whole grains not only contain complex carbs, but minerals, vitamins and fiber as well. They are a perfectly balanced food for the human body. Our ancestors have eaten them for millennia, and it’s about time we recovered their wisdom.

Whether you get some pre-cooked at a restaurant, or cook up a pot of whole grain, try one this week. Eat some every day for a week and see how you feel… and don’t forget to let us know!

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