Green Grains: The Best Carb Sources for You and the Planet

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Atkins dieters don’t know what they’re missing with carbs that are healthy for you and the planet…

If you’re feeling guilty about all the carbs in that giant plate of spaghetti you inhaled at lunch, give yourself a break—pigging out on grains may not be wonderful for your waistline, but it’s a lot better for the environment than gorging on just about any other type of food. That’s right, grains are the most energy-efficient fare around, according to Scientific American. In fact, grain production uses less than half the energy of the next-best choices, fruits and vegetables. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs are the worst energy offenders, so eat those conservatively.

Even though grains are inherently green, choosing the right ones can do even more to help save the planet. Look for these next time you hit the supermarket:

Whole grains – There’s a good reason every major bakery is hawking whole-wheat bread these days; whole grains are far superior to refined ones nutritionally. And the whole versions are better for the environment, too. Manufacturers remove the bran and germ from refined grains, and then often bleach the endosperm to make white flour. This process requires machinery that uses energy. Often, the grains are enriched with vitamins to replace some of the lost nutrients, using even more resources. The grains may need to be transported to and from the milling factory, which involves fuel for transportation. Don’t fall for breads “made with” whole grains—you want 100 percent whole. Even with whole grains, look for the least-processed options; the fewer the ingredients, the better it probably is for the environment.

Locally-grown grains – The greenest grains are the ones grown near you, regardless of variety. For many North Americans, this means wheat, but some regions like British Columbia produce spelt, Kamut, oats and other grains. In some cities, like New York, local farmers are rediscovering grains and selling fresh flour through delivery programs or farmers markets. Check your local listings for grain farmers, and use locally-grown flour for pancakes, breads and muffins. Patronize farmers who use pesticide-free growing practices.

Organic grains – If you can’t go local, go organic (like you didn’t know that already). Traditionally-grown grains are treated with nasty pesticides that seep into our water and soil, and may eventually make their way to your plate. When buying national brands, look for the USDA organic label. These products are grown without any synthetic substances, are not genetically engineered, and aren’t produced using icky things like radiation and sewage sludge (yes, they use those for conventional farming). When you buy locally, however, don’t necessarily rule out growers that aren’t USDA certified—it’s often harder for small farmers to gain certification. Inquire about growing practices and use your common sense.

Healthiest choices  – For your body’s sake, pick the grains that are as good for you as they are for the planet. For the most digestion-friendly fiber, go for wheat, barley, rye and triticale. For metabolism-supporting manganese, teff is your best bet. Quinoa is an excellent source of folic acid, which can help prevent birth defects. If you’re ignoring the advice in this article and eating conventionally-grown grains, you may want to avoid wheat; the FDA detected pesticide residue in about 42 percent of wheat samples.

image: Yaisog Bonegnasher

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