(Note: I did not mean for this to look like a racially motivated, election day post… clearly it is not about race, and I am only posting today because of delays due to Superstorm Sandy, Halloween and my baby brother visiting.)
I am not the only one in my practice who is anti-white. Recently, my colleague told me that her kids did not like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich they were served at a friend’s house. They made a “yuck” face and complained, “It was on this sticky, white bread, Mommy. What was that?”
Having kids forces parents to make healthy choices, like going from more fatty to less fatty milk or avoiding sodas and junk in the house. Another one of these healthy changes involves replacing more processed, white foods with less processed, brown foods.
I say go brown early and often. Go brown as soon as you can– even before you start your baby on solids. The earlier you go brown, the more successful you will be. Here are my thoughts and recommendations on going brown:
First, let’s have a super simple review of wheat. Wheat has an outside and an inside. The outside has most of the fibers, vitamins and minerals. The inside has the starch. When you eat whole wheat, you are eating all the good stuff in addition to the starches. If you eat white bread, you consume the carbohydrates but miss out on all the fibers, vitamins and minerals present in the whole wheat. Since white flour products are mostly just carbohydrates, the glycemic index, or sugar load, of white flour is higher than that of whole wheat. That means that though the calories may be similar, white flour causes your body to see a faster load of sugar. This in turn triggers insulin, which then triggers a cascade of metabolic events that we want to keep limited.
Breads and pastas should be whole grain. That is different from “multi-grain,” which could be multiple processed grains. If you want to make sure you are getting a whole grain product, ingredients must read “whole.” Now, my Alton Brown-loving husband was quick to remind me that it is not easy to make whole wheat bread. Often breads are mixed with whole and non-whole (not necessarily white since it may be unbleached) flour. But a mixture of whole grain is better than no whole grain at all. My favorite breads contain seeds—an easy way to add some healthy seed power.
Also, think of ordering whole wheat at restaurants. We even order whole wheat crust on our pizza. Many places offer that, including one of our favorite local joints, Lost Dog Cafe.
What does it mean if the label says “unbleached,” or “enriched?” Most white flours are bleached. Back in the day, the bleaching process was long and drawn out, but today, flours are rapidly bleached, literally, using chemical bleaches. Though I am in favor of using unbleached flour, realize that bleaching has nothing to do with whether or not you are getting a whole grain product. “Unbleached” just means that whatever part of the wheat is used (usually the inside), is unbleached. The word “enriched” is another diversion. “Enriched” is just a nice way of saying that the manufacturers attempted to replace a few of the nutrients that they stripped away during the processing of their product.
I recommend little or no white flour in the house. This includes breads and pastas. It is much easier to eat whole grain bread, whole grain pasta or even whole grain tortillas if that is all you have in the kitchen. If you are anything like me, you probably get enough of the white products when you eat outside of the home.
Brown rice only. The logic is the same as above. Rice has a healthy outside and a starchy inside, just like wheat. I know everyone loves white rice. Sorry! The good news is that there is a backhanded bonus with brown rice. Not only is it healthier, but you will probably eat less (since you don’t love it). There are various forms of brown rice. You can read labels to look for higher protein contents in some forms, if that serves your needs. I usually serve brown rice with beans or lentils, making a complete protein. I even make brown rice khichree, an Indian rice and lentil mixture. A recipe will be forthcoming.
But no one likes whole wheat pasta. My husband and I have always been good about brown bread and brown rice. However, we love our white pasta and long held on to this smallish vice. Then, our daughter started eating pasta. That was a game-changing moment in our kitchen. Our pasta is now brown (once in a while we still treat ourselves to some plain old white spaghetti). We usually use whole wheat elbows or bow-ties that are easy for our daughter to pick up. And of course we saute in plenty of onions, garlic, herbs and whatever vegetables are in the fridge. I cook the veggies a little more than I would if I were not feeding a toddler. That makes them easier for her to eat.
Tips on cooking with brown pasta: Cook the pasta for a minute or so longer than suggested. Also, leave a little time after you blend the pasta with your sauce (tomato, pesto, olive oil or other) so that the pasta can really absorb the flavors. That tends to help with taste and texture differences with the whole wheat pastas. Sometimes it tastes even better the next day.
Treats are ok. It is the everyday routine that I try to monitor and influence in my patients and in my family, not the once-in-a-while transgressions. No need to swing the pendulum to uber extreme.
Avoid fights later by making natural and healthy the norm in your house now. It is a good change for you and it is a great start for your kids. If whole foods, in their more natural states, are offered to your kids from the start, they can enjoy and appreciate them from an early age. That is much easier than convincing your 5 or 7 year-old that you are no longer going to serve white rice or white bread. It is better if they complain that they don’t like the neighbor’s bread because it is this weird, white color. Another lesson learned from a 7 year-old.