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The amazing power of whole grains

The most important dietary change you can make is to integrate whole cereal grains (particularly short grain brown rice) into your daily diet. This should be a staple for everyone but is absolutely essential for anyone adopting a vegan lifestyle. And ensuring your health benefits from the amazing power of whole grains and still having a varied and tasty diet is probably much easier than you think.

In this article, we are going to look at why whole grains, in general, are so beneficial, but also provide an additional focus on short-grain brown rice, a staple of the Macrobiotic diet.

Simply put, whole grains and grain products are the cornerstones of any healthy, whole foods diet whether that is a purely vegan or the flexitarian approach based on a Mediterranean diet. My vegan approach means we can supplement whole grains with fresh vegetables from land and sea, beans, nuts, seeds and fresh fruits without the need for fish, poultry and/or meat.

I believe that a vegan diet is not only the healthiest option, but it is also good for the planet and respects all sentient life. You might enjoy my book, Go Vegan which provides lots of information about all facets of a vegan life and plenty of delicious recipes. There’s a review on this website here.

But whole grains, as mentioned, are the cornerstone of a vegan diet so let’s explore the amazing power of these foods.

An abundant variety

With the abundant variety of grains available to us, however, we could, in theory survive on whole grains alone by simply adding a vegetable or a piece of fruit. Grains are the link between the plant and animal kingdom from which we, as humans, draw life and the amazing power of whole grains should never be underestimated!

Grains are the all-around perfect food. Short grain brown rice, for example, is high in serotonin, a very calming food that should be a daily staple. The majority of nutrients that the human organism needs to sustain life are fully present in whole grains. Water, protein, vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, fats and fibre compose this miraculous food that not only reproduces itself a thousand times over (with little assistance from us) but can be stored and transported literally without damage or spoilage.

Always choose organic grains wherever possible as organic foods nourish us better because they are allowed to flourish naturally, possess greater concentrations of certain vitamins and minerals and they also support the earth that gives them life, AND, it is always better to choose life.

Understanding complex carbohydrates

Of the three macronutrients that are our essential building blocks, (carbohydrates, protein and fat) carbohydrates are needed in the largest amounts. Here are seven reasons complex carbohydrates have such superstar status.

  • They are the main source of fuel for your body
  • They are burned most efficiently as a fuel source. They are required by your central nervous system, brain, (your brain runs almost entirely on glucose and can’t use fat or protein for its energy needs), muscles (including your heart), and kidneys
  • They provide glucose to all of your body’s cells and tissues for energy
  • They can be stored in your liver and muscles for future energy needs
  • They can be found in whole grains, grain products, beans, vegetables, sea vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Whole grain foods support good health. Eating whole grain foods reduces the risk of digestive disorders, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers. Whole grains are high in complex carbohydrates and fibre that help fill us up and delay hunger. Weight control is made easier by eating more whole grains instead of higher-calorie foods.

Composition and Nutrition

Grains are the seeds of plants, and whole grain foods include all three parts:

  1. Bran – forms the outer layer of the seed and contains fibre, B vitamins, minerals (magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, selenium, copper) and phytochemicals;
  2. Endosperm – is the kernel and bulk of the seed containing complex carbohydrates, protein and B vitamins;
  3. Germ – produces the sprout and contains B vitamins (niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin), vitamin E, minerals, unsaturated fats, phytochemicals and antioxidants.

Other nutrients in whole grains include: tocopherols, beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, glutamine, phytoestrogens, lignans, flavonoids, oligosaccharides, inositol, phenolics, saponins, lectins, and protease and amylase inhibitors. These nutrients may prevent diseases, lower blood cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar and improve immune function.

Fibre is the part of plant-based foods that the body does not digest. Whole grains have both soluble and insoluble fibre.

Oats, barley, and rye have soluble fibre that slows stomach emptying and nutrient absorption, reducing the rise in glucose and insulin to improve blood sugar control.

Bran has insoluble fibre that adds bulk to stools and shortens transit time through the colon, reducing the time the bowels carry waste products.

Whole grains are indispensable to health by regulating bowel function, stabilizing blood sugar, discharging toxins, decreasing cravings for sugar and fat. The amazing power of whole grains should never be underestimated!

Brown rice (short-grain)

This is the most nourishing grain and possibly the most delicious. Its naturally sweet taste can be enjoyed on a daily basis. For a complete meal, eat the rice with a bean dish, a variety of vegetables, fermented pickles and gomashio. Serve with a miso soup if desired.

Brown rice gives you lots of fibre, vitamins and minerals……small amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, folate and niacin. These B vitamins tend to work hand-in-hand to pull energy from the foods you eat, while supporting brain processes and blood-cell formation. You’ll also get magnesium, phosphorus and a little calcium, to keep your bones strong; in addition to potassium and a minimal amount of sodium, for fluid balance and heart functions.

A note on fibre

As mentioned above, dietary fibre from whole grains is divided into two groups, insoluble and soluble fibre. Both bind with the body’s harmful toxins, cholesterol, and fat (from which estrogens are made) to remove them from our system via the bowel. Removing excess fat before it enters the bloodstream keeps estrogen formation low. This is a positive quality because estrogens can stimulate the growth of abnormal cells, which eventually leads to the growth of cancer cells. Known cancers that are stimulated to grow from estrogen excess are breast, uterine, fallopian tube, vagina, prostate and ovarian as well as head and neck cancers.

Short-grain brown rice v basmati brown rice

The texture of these two types of brown rice is quite different. Brown short-grain rice is a Macrobiotic daily staple; it is more dense and nutritious and offers greater versatility because of its ‘stickiness.’ It is amazing in sushi, burgers, risottos, rice porridge (we eat every day), and sweet and neutral enough to make puddings (amazake), and so much more such as my burritos, stuffed vegetables to name just a few of our favourite rice-based recipes.

By comparison, the texture of basmati brown rice when cooked is individual grains that do not stick together i.e. it is not sticky and therefore doesn’t offer the same versatility. It is also much drier and, as already mentioned, it is not as nutritious.

From an eco-perspective, short-grain rice is generally cultivated and used in temperate climates whereas basmati rice is generally cultivated in hot climates such as India.

As the Rice Association states, there are over 40,000 different types of rice, so do take care with your purchases!

My preference is to pressure cook a batch of brown rice to keep in the fridge and use for my power-packed nutritional breakfast rice porridge (see below.) Use a pressure cooker if you have one as this helps ensure the amazing power of these whole grains is absolutely maximised.

Pressure-Cooked Short Grain Brown Rice

Take two cups of rice, place in a sieve and rinse with water. Soak the rice overnight. Discard the soaking water and add 4 cups of filtered water to the rice. Add a pinch of sea salt and seal the pressure cooker. Bring to full pressure and then reduce to a low simmer for 25minutes.

Remove from the heat and allow the pressure to be released naturally about 25 minutes. Remove the lid and hey presto!!….. You now have perfectly cooked whole grains.

You can use this batch of rice for your morning porridge. This batch of rice will last for up to 5 days in the fridge for one person, for two people simply, double the quantity.

Standard cooking Short Grain Brown Rice

If you do not have a pressure cooker – follow the instructions above, bring the rice to a boil and then simmer on a low heat until the water is absorbed, and the rice is slightly sticky. The end result will be different from pressure cooking which is the best way forward as it breaks down phytic acid on the grain and makes it more digestible.

Benefits of Pressure Cooking

Pressure cooking has many advantages, among which saving time & energy, preserving nutrients and eliminating harmful micro-organisms from food are most significant.

Foods are cooked much faster by pressure cooking than by other methods. Typically, a pressure cooker can reduce cooking time by up to 70% compared with other methods. With less water used in cooking and a fully insulated external pot, much less energy is required, saving up to 70% of energy comparing with boiling, steaming, oven cooking or slow cooking.

Preserving Nutrients & Cooking Tasty Food

With pressure cooking, heat is very evenly, deeply, and quickly distributed. It is not necessary to immerse food in water: enough water to keep the pressure cooker filled with steam is sufficient. Because of this, vitamins and minerals are not leached or dissolved away by water. Since steam surrounds the food, foods are not oxidized by air exposure at heat, so asparagus, broccoli, and so on retain their bright green colours and phytochemical content. The cooked food keeps its original flavour.

Marlene’s Power Packed Nutritional Breakfast

Marlenes power packed nutritional porridge uses the amazing power of whole grains

My special breakfast is a fantastic way of enjoying the amazing power of whole grains. This breakfast is used widely around the globe. No matter what country I am living or teaching in I educate the same principles through yin and yang.

Fresh berries are very yin (expansive and cooling) and dried berries are very yang (contracting) energy. When the energy of food is explained via yin and yang it is far easier to understand than western nutrition. The hard facts are this! People eat from around the world so many foods that are not readily available in their climate. Living with the Seasons, which is the principle of Macrobiotics based on yin and yang is where we achieve the best health.

Simple Carbohydrates are composed of one or two molecules of sugar and are immediately sweet to the taste. The burning of simple sugar in your body is similar in intensity to the burning of newspaper in a fireplace; quick and rapidly spreading heat. Then it burns out and you have plentiful ash. (fresh fruit for breakfast is a perfect example).

Complex Carbohydrates are composed of long strands of simple sugars. A single starch molecule can contain anywhere from 250 to 1500 individual sugar molecules. As we CHEW the complex sugar, the saliva begins to break down the long chains and the taste becomes noticeably sweet. Complex sugars have a slower burning efficiency in your body, comparable to putting logs on a fire; they burn slowly, consistently and evenly. They are enduring heat/energy.

When I see clients for counselling who eat fruit or cold juices for breakfast, the same pattern always emerges; low energy, digestive issues, etc., etc., why? Because they are eating cold, high sugar fruits during seasons when the body craves warm cooked foods. As you will see from the concept of yin and yang, therefore, taking fresh and dried (berries) as an example, it is so simple to understand why I use the contractive energy of yang (dried cranberries) in my morning porridge unless the berries are available locally and seasonally.

For Breakfast Porridge

Warm the required amount of pre-cooked rice (as above) in a pan on the stove by adding some water, rice or almond milk. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes on a low heat until creamy. If like many, you desire a sweet taste, add a little natural rice syrup, a sprinkling of nuts, ground flaxseed, linseed, chia seeds, shelled hemp and a little dried fruit, I use dried cranberries and, when in season, I enjoy fresh berries.

As mentioned above berries and other fruits are cooling and high in fructose but for the short time we have them available in our climate then, of course, enjoy them. However, I do eat fresh berries and other temperate climate foods on their own as a snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon.

If you prefer a salty taste in your morning porridge as Bill does, then add a small drop of shoyu or tamari (naturally fermented soy sauces), some ground seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, gomashio or sunflower seeds.

Bill and I have breakfast porridge made with brown rice almost every day. On occasions, I make pancakes with blueberries and use a little maple syrup, (mum loves them). We need pleasure or swing foods as I call them on birthday’s, holidays etc., the unfortunate thing is that people are eating this high refined carbohydrate breakfast DAILY.

About Marlene Watson-Tara

Marlene Watson-Tara is a health counsellor and teacher with over 40 years’ experience of transforming lives. She is a graduate of the T. Colin Campbell Centre for Nutrition Studies in New York and an expert in the field of plant-based nutrition. She has cooked for millionaires and royalty and currently resides in Godalming, UK.

Marlene is a long time vegan, lover of animals, nature and life and passionate about human ecology. Her dietary philosophy draws from the fields of Macrobiotic Nutrition, her studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine and her certification in plant-based nutrition.

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Author of the best-selling book ‘Macrobiotics for all Seasons’ and her most recent book ‘Go Vegan’ is available worldwide.

Marlene teaches alongside her husband Bill Tara and have graduates of their MACROVegan Health Coach Programme in 27 countries.

Along with Bill Tara, Marlene runs the “Human Ecology Project” which offers a new approach to the human diet and well-being.

The topic of nutrition has become a confusing landscape of cultural myth and vested interest. Their holistic approach to nutrition addresses not only the physical requirements for vibrant health but also the ethical, environmental and social impact of what we eat.

A combined 90 years of experience working as health consultants, authors and teachers, ensures that their approach is based on solid principles that takes into account both modern science, ancient wisdom and human ecology. The Human Ecology Project runs cooking and nutrition courses, provides health counselling and is a vehicle for the couple’s life beliefs.


Image credits:

Header image by NatureFriend from Pixabay

Porridge image from Go Vegan

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