Above: Brownies, mince pies, oatmeal cookies and scones. All made with wholemeal flour. Don't knock it till you try it.
At the start of December, I was invited to attend a wholegrain cookery demonstration by TV chef Silvana Franco, hosted by HGCA, the UK-wide cereals and oilseeds dicision of Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.
I went along as I'm always keen to learn more ways to incorporate whole foods into what I eat, dumping more processed versions of the same wherever I can. And if I can make whole grains taste as delicious as possible so that they don't just feel and taste like a chore of virtue, all the better.
The session proved to be very timely for me personally. About a week after the workshop, I got diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Yeah. And I didn't even need a fat paycheck from a drug company to come clean about that. *Roll eyes*
In the weeks that followed, I was utterly absorbed with the first hand study of the havoc wreaked by white or processed vs wholegrain carbs on my blood sugar levels. Pretty sobering stuff.
I'm due to deliver next week. There is some expectation that my blood sugar will quickly normalise afterwards. But still. It's been quite the wakeup call. I'm not sure I'll ever look at a dessert or a plate of white (insert carb here) or any kind of sweetener without making some quick anxious calculations in my head ever again.
For those of you out there in similar situations, I just hope to share with you what I'm beginning to learn. For the lucky unaffected ones out there, take this post as a quick list of prevention tips.
Above: Dietician and nutrionist Dr Sarah Schenker (left) and TV chef Silvana Franco
One of the first things the docs will probably tell a diabetes patient to do is to lose some weight. Faddish dieters may immediately jump to the conclusion that it's best to drop carbs from one's diet altogether.
Not a good idea, says dietitician and nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker, as carbohydrates are necessary to produce glucose, which is critical for brain function and development. But why wholegrains in particular?
Mostly because wholegrains release a slower steadier drip of glucose over time, rather than the quick flood and ebb of their more processed cousins. Turns out the kind of glucose the brain needs is the former, as it doesn't have a glucose storage facility. More details in this helpful article.
And partly because the red / brown bit of the grain that makes it "whole" contains a whole bunch of healthy oils, fibres, vitamins and minerals. Almost all of it gets stripped away in the white version of the carb, such that some vitamins and minerals have to be artificially re-added by law.
Mini aside rant alert:
Does that sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me? That we as consumers pay extra to have a wholegrain industrially stripped, and then pay some more still to have artificial good stuff added back in?
And so why is it that a wholegrain version of something usually costs more than a stripped version in a store? Partly due to the tragedy of supply and demand. But also partly because the stripped version of a grain tends to have a longer shelf life than its wholegrain original (oils in the wholegrain lends it to going rancid at an earlier date). Longer shelf life is usually a winning enough reason for Big Food Inc.
Now back to the spiel...
The recommended carbohydrate intake for an adult is about 16g of wholegrains, 3 times a day. Here's what a few examples of what 16g of wholegrains looks like:
- 3 tbs wholegrain breakfast cereal
- 1 tbs uncooked porridge oats
- 1 slice wholemeal cread
- 2 tbs cooked brown or wild rice
- 3 tbs cooked brown pasta
- 1/2 a wholemeal pitta bread
- 1/2 a wholemeal bagel
Silvana used the cookery demonstration to show a few easy ways that folks could get started on the journey to incorporate more wholegrains into their diet.
Tip 1: Substitute brown or wholewheat bread / rice / pasta where you might usually use white
We made a fattoush salad, with grilled wholewheat pitta bits instead of white. Basically, drizzle a bit of rapeseed oil on the pittas and grill for a few minutes until crisp. Combine roughly chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, romaine lettuce, onions, and mint.
At the end, crumble in the pitta and some feta cheese, then dress with crushed garlic, a pinch of sumac, rapeseed oil and lemon juice. I'm looking forward to making more of this when the weather warms up.
Tip 2: Not all carbs are equal
One of my most delightful discoveries over the last few weeks is that homemade popcorn is a relatively easy-on-blood-sugar snack, compared to crisps, cakes, candy etc. The trick is not to undo it all with your popcorn flavouring.
Try these flavour combinations at home:
Curried: Ground coriander, cumin, tumeric and chilli powder
Cinnamon: Mix a little ground cinnamon with a touch of golden caster sugar
Herby: Grind together mixed dried herbs and a little rock salt
Italian: Finely grated parmesan and dried oregano
And my little winning experiment on the day: Maple syrup, salt and cayenne pepper. A slightly more friendly sweetener for diabetics is agave nectar.
Tip 3: You can use wholemeal flour in some pretty unexpected desserts
Like brownies. I can tell you that the brownie on display at the demonstration (1st photo above) tasted far yummier than I had expected -- a subtly more savoury and nutty undertone. I don't plan to eat or make these until I see what's going on with my blood sugar levels after the baby pops, but I reckon I'll be using wholemeal flour instead of white whenever it is that I start making brownies again.
HGCA's Recipe for Wholemeal and Rapeseed Oil Brownies
3 medium eggs
200g soft brown sugar
150g self-raising wholemeal flour
100ml rapeseed oil
50g dried cranberries (or dried apple or chopped dates or even goji berries... a surprising discovery)
25g milk chocolate chips (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180 deg C. Base line a 22cm square tin
- Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and creamy. Sieve the flour and cocoa together and gently whisk into the eggs, then whisk in the oil
- Pour into the prepared tin, scatter over the cranberries and chocolate chips if using. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Cool slightly before turning out of the tin. Cut into 12 pieces.
More recipes by HGCA available here