Insights by Goldie: Back to basics with whole grains: a foundation for whole health!

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in January 2011

Some articles indicate “cheap” foods are being consumed more heavily now. These are primarily refined carbohydrates, such as refined white breads, crackers, cookies, white pastas, polished white rice and refined (degerminated) corn flour products.

I certainly can understand why. Mass-marketed, highly refined and processed foods ironically are generally cheaper to buy. They may be comforting, taste good, and satisfy hunger (temporarily). But regularly consumed? We know they take a heavy toll on health! Research repeatedly finds less obesity, less heart disease, less diabetes, lower cholesterol, better weight management, better digestion, and generally lower rates of cancer in populations eating even a minimum of whole grains.

We need to invest wisely — both our time and our money — to get the best returns. Making whole-grain foods our daily mainstay foods can actually result in saving both. For example: cooking buckwheat groats, quinoa or bulgur takes about 15 minutes; amaranth, millet or teff about 20 to 30 minutes; and about 45 to 60 minutes for brown rice, wild rice and whole wheat (or rye, spelt or kamut). Store cooked grains refrigerated for five days, or frozen for a month or so — ready to prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks — really healthy “fast foods”! (See porridge recipe at right.)

Going “back to basics” applies to all diets, from vegan to omnivore. Start with trying out various organic whole-grain recipes. Gradually add more organic beans and lentils, nuts and seeds to your daily fare — in simple, easy and satisfying recipes — accompanied regularly by organic, mostly in-season, fresh (or frozen) vegetables and fruits. Both your health and pocketbook will benefit, every day, at every meal. And yes, I know, you’re busy, on a budget, and may feel a need for “coaching.” We can help!

Start with our easy guide, “Choosing and Cooking Whole Grains,” available at all PCC customer service areas — and online at I recommend you also register for a free, fun, info-packed Walk, Talk & Taste class — and receive a $10 coupon for in-store shopping.

The 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends that at minimum, we should have at least one serving of whole grains at every meal and encourages us to try for all whole-grains. It’s doable — and delicious! Servings are small, such as one slice of bread, or ½ cup cooked whole-grain pasta or cooked whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice or millet.

Going “back to basics” applies to all diets, from vegan to omnivore. Start with trying out various organic whole-grain recipes.

Unfortunately, package labels frequently are confusing. Bread, crackers or other baked goods may list “wheat flour” or “all-purpose flour” — which both mean refined white flour — nutritionally stripped of all fiber and most minerals and vitamins. And “enriched” flour? It’s helpful — but very inferior to “whole”! When the first or second ingredient isn’t “whole,” it’s generally “all downhill after that,” as one nutritionist put it! Even “multigrain” — unless specified as “whole” — can mislead.

Pasta that says “semolina” means totally refined durum wheat flour. Instead, use whole durum wheat or brown rice or other whole-grain pasta.

One bright spot is the Whole Grains Council. Founded by the Oldways Foundation, it provides education on the important health benefits of whole grains.

If a product is stamped with the council’s logo, it guarantees a minimum of ½-serving of whole grains per portion, but most products with the stamp have higher whole-grain content — so check the stamp and label. See for companies and chain restaurants that feature whole grains. While there, read reviews of several recent health studies — and maybe try some of the council’s many free recipes.

Also in this issue

We are what we eat and how we eat

Since returning from a Slow Food conference in Italy as a delegate, I’ve been noticing the American organic consumer’s tendency to focus somewhat obsessively on what we eat. It seems that our dietary rules — no gluten, sugar, dairy or nuts, for example ­— become the goal. Please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying the very real allergies and sensitivities that many of us have (me included).

NOSB meeting in Seattle

Mark your calendars: The National Organic Standards Board and the National Organic Program will hold their first meeting ever in Seattle on April 26-29. Consumers, vendors and other organic stakeholders may attend or testify.