It’s common knowledge that whole-grain products are healthier than white, refined versions. But what about smooth whole-grain bread? Is it as healthy as cooked barley or steel-cut oats, for example?
Whole grains for health
Research suggests that people who eat whole-grain foods regularly have a 20 to 30 percent reduced risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer.
But even among whole-grain foods, there appears to be a hierarchy. Some food forms allow for better control of your blood sugar and insulin levels, which is important because constantly spiking your sugar and insulin levels during the day is now known to promote disease, even if you don’t have diabetes.
The best forms
Whole grains can be processed to varying degrees. Clinical studies show the best forms of grains to use are intact, cracked, or rolled (in that order) rather than puffed, flaked, or finely ground flour. Think brown rice for your risotto dish or bulgur wheat for a pilaf dish rather than muffins made with whole-grain flour or puffed brown rice cakes (even though they’re low fat).
Less processed grains are better because when the grain is less ground up and the surface area is smaller, it takes longer for the carbohydrate to be digested by your amylase enzymes, so your blood sugar and insulin levels rise more slowly after eating such foods.
Other preparation tricks
1. Don’t soak your grains (especially rice) because soaking helps gelatinize the starch, which makes it digest and release sugar into your bloodstream more quickly.
2. Cook your whole grains in the minimal amount of water required so that they are al dente—like the Italians cook pasta—rather than soft-cooked. Whole grains cooked this way digest slower, protecting you from insulin surges.
3. After cooking, cool your whole-grain product (or any carbohydrate foods, such as potato) and use it the next day. Even if you reheat such foods, the carbohydrate is more resistant to digestion (called resistant starch), causing a slower rise in your blood sugar.
And you win!