« Michael Pollan and our dysfunctional food systems | Main | Food security, health care, and responsibility »

To Wheat Or Not To Wheat

Guest contributor Elena P.
From To Wheat Or Not To Wheat, March 2004

When I think about the kinds of food to prepare, my mind wanders back to the foods I ate while living in Scotland, Nepal, Japan and other places where I have lived or traveled. It is important to note, however, that it is the properties of these foods, rather than their exotic affiliations, that drive my eating habits. I do not eat sushi, pad thai, and kim chi because I wish to participate in cultural food colonialism, as Heldke (2003) contends. I simply eat these foods because I have an allergy to wheat. No wheat means no cookies, no crackers, no bagels, no breakfast cereal, no cake, no hamburgers, no chicken stripes, no calamari, no burritos, no pizza, no pasta, no bread, and in some cases, no beer. Needless to say, it is extremely difficult to find wheat-free foods at most Canadian restaurants, bakeries, delis and coffee shops.

Eating wheat-free meals is much less challenging when I buy all of my food from the grocery store. As a student, however, I spend at least 12 hours a day on campus and, consequently, I usually end up buying all of my meals from the university's cafeterias, restaurants, coffee shops, and vending machines. Occasionally, I make a lunch at home and bring it to school, but this endeavour usually depends on time. Unfortunately, I have found the preparation of wheat-free foods such as rice, potatoes, and oatmeal, to be particularly time consuming, and consequently, usually end up buying expensive, quick, processed or pre-made snack foods. Fortunately, the average vending machine on campus is equipped with some wheat-free options, namely, chocolate, corn chips, potato chips, and granola bars. Most of the time I buy granola bars because, in my opinion, they are the healthiest option. I will proceed to explain how I came to develop this view.

When I was a child, my grandmother used to make me porridge, served with milk and blackberry jam. When I was especially young, she used to spoon-feed me. At the time, I thought being spoon-fed was the most enjoyable thing in the world. Most days, to my grandmother's dismay, I would employ a series of porridge-blocking techniques before finally biting down onto the spoon. Only seconds before the mound of steaming oats was transferred into my mouth, I would quickly purse my lips together and block the delivery! I thought this was hilarious, and would employ this porridge-blocking technique several times in a row, only yielding to my grandmother['s] plea, "come on Elena, open up. Porridge is good for you!"

As it turns out, my grandmother was right. Oats are, indeed, significantly healthy (Eborn, 2001). Oats belong to the grass family, scientifically known as Poaceae or Gramineae, and to the genus Avena (Wych, 2001). One of the most beneficial components of oats is that they are high in soluble and insoluble fibre (Innvista, 2000). Fibre, in turn, has multiple benefits such as increasing fecal bulk, speeding up fecal transit time, binding bile acids, and promoting fermentation in the large intestine (eDrugstore.md, 2003). In effect, fibre lowers cholesterol levels and decreases the chance of heart disease (Eborn, 2001). According to Eborn (2001), oats contain significantly more vitamins and minerals than wheat [see nutrition table]. Moreover, oats are said to be high in quality protein (Wych, 2001), and complex carbohydrates (Eborn, 2001).

These are among some of the positive characteristics that I have come to associate with oats and, interestingly, with granola bars too. In fact, it is thoroughly ingrained in my head that anything made with oats is healthy! Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Due to repeated heat-processing, instant or quick oats are rendered significantly less nutritious than old-fashioned oats (Innvista, 2000). Although I don't usually buy packages of 'quick oats', I do consume copious amounts of granola bars that are made with quick oats called "Oatmeal to go". In addition to quick oats, these granola bars contain hydrogenated vegetable oils. According to Graci (2000), hydrogenated vegetable oils should be avoided because they contain dangerous trans-fatty acids.

Literature Sources

Graci, S. The Food Connection. Toronto, ON: MacMillan, 2000, pp. 203-236.

Heldke, L. Exotic Appetites: ruminations of a food adventurer. London, UK: Routledge, 2003 pp. 23-59 (The pursuit of authenticity).

Wych, RD. (2001). Oats. In The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, pp. 640-641.

Internet Sources

Eborn, Doug. (2001). Walton feed. Retrieved March 20, 2004, from http://waltonfeed.com/self/oats.html

Oats. (2000). Retrieved March 20, 2004, from http://www.innvista.com/health/foods/seeds/oats.htm

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)