Grains and Lentils
Man has been in existence for approximately 100,000 years. For over 90,000 years, he followed a "palaeolithic lifestyle" also known as a hunter-gatherer. That means he subsisted on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and whatever little meat he could hunt on. Only in the last 10,000 years or so did man settle down and begin agriculture and start harvesting grains. So grains are a relatively new addition to our diet. However, gradually grains like rice and wheat have now become the staple in our diet. This probably has commercial reasons also since grains can be cultivated in bulk, stored for long periods, transported and traded worldwide. Fruits and vegetables are bulky, spoil quickly and easily and are not as amenable to commerce as grains. So gradually we have learned to have more of these foods in our diet. But are they the ideal food for us? Lets see what Natural Hygiene has to say.
Inedible when raw
A food edible in raw form by a particular species indicates its physiological suitability for that species. Grains are inedible and indigestible when raw for humans. Compare this on the other hand with graminivorous creatures like birds. They have a very powerful digestive system called a gizzard that enables them to grind up and digest grains. But we don’t! So we should not go overboard with grain consumption. They should form less than 50% of our diet.
Let's look at wheat in particular. The gluten in wheat causes serious problems to several people like celiacs (people who suffer from gluten intolerance). Many people do better when they minimize wheat consumption. Millets are a very good option.
Sensory and Gustatory appeal
A food suitable for a particular species will have appeal to the senses of the creature. Animals too instinctively know what food is good for them and they find it tasty in its raw form. Grains fail this test as nobody can find raw grains palatable. Even after cooking, we find that they do not cater to our taste buds, sense of smell etc. A wide variety of vegetables, condiments, spices and sauces need to be added to make us able to eat and enjoy cooked grain.
Grains are difficult to digest
Birds can handle grains easily - we can't. Even after cooking, the complex carbohydrates need to be broken down substantially before they become simple sugars that can be absorbed by the body. Humans have only one relatively weak starch splitting enzyme, ptyalin or amylase, whereas other herbivores have five to six of them. Grains take up to 4 hours or more in the stomach to be digested. Fruits take less than 30 minutes to digest.
Grains are not efficiently digested
Grains are typically washed down our throats with liquids and sauces. Any liquid with the grain results in the suspension of secretion of salivary amylase. So starch digestion in the mouth is hindered, leaving the job entirely to the stomach.
Most Grains are Acidic
Since the human body has to maintain it's alkalinity to survive, it thrives best on alkaline foods. Grains (except millets) are acidic in reaction. On the other hand, fruits and veggies are alkaline
Refined grains are not Vitamin sufficient
Whole grain (whole wheat, unpolished rice) do have a fair complement of vitamins, but very few people eat whole grains. The majority have refined industrially processed grains (white polished rice, white flour or maida). Almost all the vitamins are lost in this process when the grain is stripped of its vitamin-rich coverings/bran.
Whatever vitamins are left are likely to be destroyed/leached away by cooking especially if the cooking water is thrown away. Most vitamins are heat-sensitive anyway
Action Points What we can do:
Grains are not an ideal food for humans and should not form the mainstay of your diet.
- Try to reduce the quantity of grain in your diet. Go for smaller portions or rice or bread and larger portions of vegetables
- Have a large raw salad as the first part of your meal. Then have some rice or bread with lots of cooked vegetables. This will help reduce the amount of grains you are consuming
- Try and get organically grown grains at least you will not have to deal with pesticide problems
- Go for whole-grain rather than refined grain. Brown rice rather than white, wholewheat bread rather than white bread. When a grain is refined or polished, most of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals etc are lost in the husk during the refining or polishing process. The whole grain is healthier. White rice, white bread are "empty foods" with almost nothing but carbohydrates and calories
- Jawar, Bajra (millet) and corn are better alternatives to rice and wheat. You can make bread out of these as well.
- Beans and lentils are a very good source of protein for Vegans. So be sure to include them in your diet - Vegans should aim for at least 300 g cooked beans/lentils per day.
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