Going With the Grain
By Pat Battaglia
It seems that everywhere you turn, you’ll hear advice to watch your carbs, cut carbs, or go low-carb. But in truth, we all need carbohydrates. They provide the body’s primary energy source – glucose – which fuels everything we do, from breathing to walking to thinking to reading this article. In fact, glucose is the main source of energy for the human brain.1
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, meaning that our bodies use them in the largest amounts for energy, growth, healing, and maintenance of bodily systems. The other two macronutrients are protein and fat. Depending on individual needs, about forty-five to sixty-five percent of a person’s daily calorie intake should be carbohydrates.2 But all carbs are not created equal.
Grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, and milk products are the major food sources of carbohydrates, which are subdivided into three categories.
Sugars, or simple carbohydrates, contain short-chain molecules. Found in foods such as fruits, dairy products, and refined sweeteners, simple carbs are digested quickly.
Starches, or complex carbohydrates, are long chains of glucose molecules that take longer to break down into the smaller molecules our bodies use for energy.
Fiber is also made up of long-chain molecules , but they are indigestible and pass through the digestive system while nourishing gut bacteria along the way.
Because complex carbs digest more slowly, they help lead to greater feelings of satiety. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes are all high in complex carbs and contain an array of other essential nutrients. Whole grains are a marvelous example of this. Each kernel is a nutrient-dense gift package made up of three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran – the “wrapping” – is the fiber-rich outer layer that also supplies B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. The endosperm – the “packing” – is the interior layer that holds carbohydrates, protein, and small amounts of some B vitamins and minerals. The germ – the “gift” – is the core of the seed where growth occurs; it is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.
Incorporating whole grain into your diet doesn’t need to be hard. Small changes can make a big difference over time. To get you started, here are five simple ways to incorporate whole grain foods into your daily routine:
Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal. Whole grain cereals and bagels are also quick and easy.
Choose whole grain breads and pasta.
Substitute whole wheat ﬂour for all or part of the white flour in your regular recipes.
Eat popcorn when you need to nosh.
Use brown rice instead of white rice. Or be bold and try wild rice, quinoa, or bulgur.
A cancer diagnosis is highly stressful to the mind and body. Nourishing both is a challenge to survivors and caregivers alike. Regarding your food intake, remember that carbohydrates – both simple and complex – are part of a healthy diet. Emphasizing whole grains, fruits, and veggies while minimizing processed foods that contain added sugars will help your body get the energy it needs in a healthy way.
This story appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of Voices of the Ribbon newsletter.