What About Places Without Whole Grains?
by David Briscoe
In certain areas of the world there is no longer whole grain agriculture, and no modern tradition for using whole grains. And in some areas of the world people have never used whole grains. If macrobiotics encourages the use of whole grains as the principle food, what can people in these areas do? Yes, they can try to import whole grains, and yes, they could attempt to start whole grain farming in their area. But what has the actual tradition been? What helped traditional people stay healthy in these areas of the world, for generations, without whole grains? In two words: complex carbohydrate. To be more specific: complex carbohydrate with intact fiber.
“Intact fiber” is the key to healthy carbohydrate use. For example, white rice is primarily starch, and it is often surprising for many to learn that this is in fact a complex carbohydrate, but white rice has had its fiber removed in the refining process. Fiber allows for carbohydrate to be properly digested and more gradually converted to glucose before being absorbed and used as blood sugar. Complex carbohydrate foods taken with fiber intact have be proven to prevent diabetes, high cholesterol, and numerous digestive and colon problems. The healthiest carbohydrate is complex carbohydrate that comes in food with its fiber intact. Whole grains are one such food, but there are others.
At the bottom of my macrobiotic food pyramid, I used to write “Whole Grain,” but I began to realize that was too limited. Now I write, “Foods containing complex carbohydrate and intact fiber.” This makes it possible for people in every part of the world to apply macrobiotic principles based on their locally available and traditional foods. Placing complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber at the foundation of daily eating is the healthiest choice and individual and society at large can make, in my opinion.
I was surprised to discover that Africa has had a tradition of whole grain as a principle food for thousands of years. This still exists in some isolated areas, and there are whole grains used that we have never heard of in the West. Some of these are pearl millet, fero. kam-kam, and African rice. Very unfortunately, colonization over the centuries has drastically diminished the growing of these whole grains, but there is a now a movement afoot to help restore the growing and consumption of traditional African whole grains.
Traditional people in many tropical areas have relied on tubers for their complex fiber-rich carbohydrate. Some of these we know about, but there are many we in temperate climates have never heard of. These include taro, manioc, cassava, and yam.
Today there are various movements around the world actively teaching local people about the importance of restoring the dietary traditions of their ancestors by returning to using complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber as the foundation food for daily eating. Without realizing it, they are teaching one of the basic macrobiotic principles of healthy eating for human beings. This is very good news!
Some popular writers today advise the avoidance of complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, and they advocate the use of vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts in their place. This won’t be possible for the entire world, or even all that healthy. The world’s population cannot be sustained on vegetables and fruits, or seeds and nuts. These are already very expensive, difficult to produce, require toxic agricultural chemicals to grow on a massive scale, and are wasteful of natural resources in their requirements for storage and transportation. Besides, the land simply isn’t there for this to be a possibility.
Some write that there is no proven need for the human body to have complex carbohydrates such as whole grains as a source of nourishment. This is a misleading and myopic view, in my opinion. And it flies in the face of 50 years of scientific research supporting the multi-faceted benefits of complex carbohydrates and whole grains for our health. More than that, though, it dismisses our human dietary tradition of thousands of years.
For the future, whole grain production and consumption will be the dietary savior of humanity and the earth. In those areas of the world where whole grain production may not be possible, as discussed previously, a return to the use of local and traditional foods that contain complex carbohydrate and intact fiber will be the essential dietary foundation. This has been our human dietary tradition for thousands of years, and so it must continue to be if thousands of years forward are to be possible.