kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Grains are the seeds of the grass family. They have always existed in the world but became edible after humans invented farming about 10,000 years ago. Thanks to this new ability to cultivate food, we no longer had to forage.

This was both good and bad news. There was a reliable source of food but the state of our physical being took a downturn – our skeletons and brains began to shrink in response to this new source of nutrition.

While the change to agriculture provided lots of food, the limiting factor of farming might have created vitamin and mineral deficiencies that resulted in stunted growth. Early Chinese farmers ate cereals such as rice which lacks the B vitamin niacin which is essential for growth.

Agriculture however does not explain the reduction in brain size. Dr. Marta Lahr from Cambridge University’s Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies believes that this may be a result of the energy required to maintain larger brains. The human brain accounts for one quarter of the energy the body uses. This reduction in brain size however does not mean that modern humans are less intelligent. Human brains have evolved to work more efficiently and utilize less energy.

Whole grains are made of three main components: the bran and the germ, which are the most nutritious parts, and the endosperm. Whole grains retain all three components, so they are eaten intact (such as oats) or milled in a way that retains all three parts (such as whole wheat flour).

The fiber in bran (grain’s outer layer) passes through our intestines undigested but drags everything in its path along with it, promoting regular bowel movements, eliminating toxins, and maintaining colon health. Bran also helps keep your blood sugar on an even keel by digesting slowly. Fiber also feeds trillions of beneficial bacteria that live in the gut. Eating bran has been associated with healthy cholesterol numbers, normal blood pressure, and the prevention of heart disease and cancer.

The germ is the reproductive part of the plant that grows into a new plant. It contains all the grain’s nutrients, such as vitamin B vitamins, Vitamin E, and tocopherols, plus minerals like magnesium and potassium, proteins, and some fats.

The third part of the grain, the endosperm, is where the plant stores its energy. It is all starch, Starch is broken down into glucose, which spikes the hormone insulin. High levels of insulin induced by starch and sugar are the driving force behind our obesity and chronic disease epidemics – heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia.

The nutrition community is guilty of disseminating a lot of bad information over the years.

  • It suggested we could all lose weight by cutting calories. We know now that only certain types of calories cause weight gain (carbs). Others cause weight loss (fats).

This erroneous advice that carbs are better for you than fats will probably go down in history as the most catastrophic nutritional screw-up of the twentieth century. It has literally killed millions of people. First, the medical community urged us to improve our heart health by cutting back on fats and replacing them with grains. (Wrong!) Then the federal government issued dietary guidelines and created the food pyramid in 1992, which placed grains at the foundation of a healthy diet. (Wrong, again!) We were told to eat six to eleven servings of bread, rice, cereal, or pasta a day. Unfortunately, everyone bought into this nonsense.

Nearly all the grains we consume today have been processed to death, so the good stuff they should contain is lost.

Only by cutting back on grain-based foods can we ever hope to reverse the trend of metabolic diseases that they cause. Whole grains aren’t as tasty as refined and processed grains.

Ten things you need to know about grains:

  • You do not have to eat them – at all. There are plenty of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fatty acids in whole grains. But, you can get all those from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds – foods that don’t have the baggage of grains. Fiber is essential to a healthy diet but, again, it is available in other plant-based foods.
  • Flour = Sugar Starch in grains is just another word for sugar (with a more complex molecular structure). Starch and sugar are essentially the same thing. What matters is how much a carb raises your blood sugar. On the glycemic index, which measures the amount that any given food raises your blood sugar, white bread is a 75, table sugar comes in at 65, and chocolate at 45. Eating refined grains prompts your body to release insulin, which ushers the glucose from your bloodstream into your fat cells, making them bigger and plumper. The insulin acts like a lock that prevents fat from being mobilized from your fat cells. If you consume more than a minimal amount of sugar and starch, the calories will be stored in your fat cells but won’t be able to get out. Which is why we always feel hungry and keep getting fatter! (Switch to flours made from almonds or coconuts.)
  • Your body doesn’t know what to do with gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and a few other grains. It is what makes dough doughy and bread airy. Celiac disease, a reaction to gluten, is an autoimmune condition like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or lupus which all cause confusion in your immune system. The body reacts to gluten as if it were an outside threat and it prompts your immune system to attack your own tissue. About 1 percent of the population is allergic to gluten (celiac disease). But, many more are afflicted with NCGS – non-celiac gluten sensitivity – which is an extreme inflammatory reaction to the same protein. Scientists from the University of Maryland discovered the existence of a protein called zonulin which is produced by our bodies when we eat gluten. Zonulin creates a leaky gut by opening up the tight junctions between intestinal junctions that are normally closed so that food and microbes cannot “leak” into the spaces between cells of the small intestine’s lining. Over the past 50 years there has been a 400 percent rise in Americans suffering from celiac. Scientist believe it is partly because the wheat itself has changed during that period of time. It is also probably because of environmental toxins, habits and medication.
  • New hybrids of grains contain “superstarch” called amylopectin A that has a greater impact on our blood sugar than the traditional kinds of starch. These new varieties have more gluten. These crops are also often dosed with a chemical herbicide called glyphosate. Glyphosate exposure has been associated with increase of cancer, kidney disease, lymphoma, reproductive difficulties, and damage to our gut bacteria.

You do not have to throw away all your grains. Eat less of the ones I have mentioned and start switching them out for whole grains that contain no gluten and have not been refined. Grains like quinoa and amaranth are nutritious and won’t send your blood sugar spiking. These “ancient grains” have not been bastardized or genetically engineered.

If you are among the people who can safely include some grains in your diet, you should still keep your grain intake to a minimum. Think of grains as a treat, something you have occasionally. When you do eat grains make sure they are whole grains in their natural state, that they are organic, and that they are gluten-free.

*Adapted from Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? by Mark Hyman, M.D.

Red Pepper

Red pepper, also called red bell pepper, capsicum, or sweet pepper, has a mildly sweet yet earthy taste. These peppers are fully mature versions of the more bitter green bell peppers.

The red pepper is a variety of Capsicum annuum, a family that also includes jalapeño, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, and a few other hot peppers. While you’ll see other types of peppers that are red in color, only the red bell pepper is colloquially known as “red pepper.”

The heat intensity of peppers is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). Green, yellow or red bell peppers score a zero on the scale, jalapeño peppers have around 3,500 to 8,000 and habañeros reach 150,000 to 300,000 units.

Technically a fruit, red peppers are commonly found in the vegetable produce section.  Fresh, raw bell peppers are mainly composed of water (92%). The rest is carbs and small amounts of protein and fat.

The main nutrients in 3.5 ounces of raw, red bell peppers are:

  • Calories: 31
  • Water: 92%
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 6 grams – glucose and fructose – which are responsible for the sweet taste of ripe bell peppers.
  • Sugar: 4.2 grams
  • Fiber: 2.1 grams
  • Fat: 0.3 grams

Red peppers pack the most nutrition, because they’ve been on the vine longest. They are also an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Each half cup of raw red pepper provides you with 47 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A and 159 percent of your vitamin C. Green peppers are harvested earlier, before they have a chance to turn yellow, orange, and then red. Compared to green bell peppers, the red ones have almost 11 times more beta-carotene and 1.5 times more vitamin C. Vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron from your gut and red peppers also contain a decent amount of iron.

Red pepper also have:

  • Vitamin B6. Pyridoxine is the most common type of vitamin B6, which is a family of nutrients important for the formation of red blood cells.
  • Vitamin K1. A form of vitamin K, also known as phylloquinone, K1 is important for blood clotting and bone health.
  • Potassium. This essential mineral may improve heart health.
  • Folate. Also known as vitamin B9, folate has a variety of functions in your body. Adequate folate intake is very important during pregnancy.
  • Vitamin E. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin E is essential for healthy nerves and muscles. The best dietary sources of this fat-soluble vitamin are oils, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.
  • Vitamin A. Red bell peppers are high in pro-vitamin A (beta carotene), which your body converts into vitamin A.

A study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis showed that vitamin K, which is abundant in bell peppers, may help synthesize some proteins that may positively affect blood coagulation. Vitamin K may also play a role in protecting your bones against osteoporosis. People with reduced bone density have lower levels of this nutrient. Interestingly enough, sautéed peppers contain higher amounts of vitamin K than raw peppers.

While bell peppers’ health benefits are numerous, it’s important to note that they’re part of the nightshade plant family along with eggplants and potatoes, and contain high amounts of lectins. These are plant proteins that can attach to cell membranes.

Lectins are antinutrients that can resist digestion, cause negative shifts in the balance of your gut bacteria, trigger inflammation, increase your risk for abnormal clotting and potentially predispose you to leptin resistance. However, you can reduce the lectin content in bell peppers by removing their seeds and washing prior to cooking, since these antinutrients tend to be concentrated in the seeds or skin of fruits and vegetables.

Bell peppers are rich in various antioxidants — especially carotenoids, which are much more abundant in ripe specimens.

The main compounds in bell peppers are:

  • Capsanthin. Especially high in red bell peppers, capsanthin is a powerful antioxidant responsible for their brilliant red color.
  • Violaxanthin. This compound is the most common carotenoid antioxidant in yellow bell peppers.
  • Lutein. While abundant in green (unripe) bell peppers and black paprika, lutein is absent from ripe bell peppers. Adequate intake of lutein may improve eye health.
  • Quercetin. Studies indicate that this polyphenol antioxidant may be beneficial for preventing certain chronic conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.
  • Luteolin. Similarly to quercetin, luteolin is an polyphenol antioxidant that may have a variety of beneficial health effects.

Bell peppers are usually well-tolerated, but some people may be allergic. Some people that have pollen allergy may also be sensitive to bell peppers due to allergic cross-reactivity.

How to Buy

Peppers should be firm when you buy them.

Bell peppers are sometimes dried and powdered. In that case, they are referred to as paprika.

How to Store

Refrigerate peppers, unwashed, in the vegetable drawer. Keep them dry, as moisture will eventually cause them to rot. The shelf life of red and yellow peppers is four to five days; green, about a week.

How to Cook

 

Red peppers are versatile:

  1. Blend them into hummus
  2. Pile them onto pizza.
  3. Load them into tacos or a breakfast burrito.
  4. Puree them into Roasted Red Pepper Soup.
  5. Stuff them into a sandwich.
  6. Pulse them into harissa.

Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Soup

Minimalist Baker/ Photo credit: Minimalist Baker

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large red bell peppers (left whole)
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed or peeled tomatoes in juices
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 cup water (sub up to half with extra coconut milk for creamier soup)
  • 1 14-ounce can light coconut milk (use full fat for creamier soup)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp dried dill (or sub 3 Tbs minced fresh dill per 1 1/2 Tbsp dried)
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil (or sub 2 tsp minced fresh basil per 1 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 tsp each sea salt and black pepper
  • 3-4 Tbsp coconut sugar (or stevia to taste)
  • 1 pinch red pepper flake (optional for heat)

Instructions

  • Roast red peppers in a 500 degree F oven or over an open flame on a grill or gas stovetop until tender and charred on all sides – about 10-15 minutes in the oven, or 5 minutes over an open flame. Then wrap in foil to steam for a few minutes.
  • In the meantime, add remaining soup ingredients to large pot and bring to a simmer. Then unwrap red peppers, let cool to the touch, and remove charred outer skin seeds and stems. Add to soup.
  • Transfer to blender or use immersion blender to purée soup. Then transfer back to saucepan/pot and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more coconut sugar or stevia to sweeten, red pepper flake for heat, basil or dill for earthiness, or garlic powder for overall flavor.
  • Let simmer on low for at least 10 more minutes. The longer it simmers, the deeper the flavor develops.
  • Serve as is or top with desired toppings, such as gluten-free croutons, fresh dill or basil, tomatoes, crispy baked chickpeas, nutritional yeast or Vegan Parmesan Cheese, and/or black pepper.
  • Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator for 4-5 days or the freezer for 1 month.

Resources

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Quealy K, Sanger-Katz M. Is sushi "healthy"? What about granola? Where Americans and nutritionists disagree. New York Times. July 5, 2016.
Atkinson FS, Foster-Powell K, Brand-Miller JC, International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. Diabetes Care. 31:2281-83
Farrell RJ, Kelly CP. Celiac sprue. N. Engl J Med. 2002 Jan;346(3):180-88.
Uhde M, Ajamian M, Caio G, et al. Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individuals reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of celiac disease. Gut/ 2016;65: 1930-37.
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