Nourishment: Grains & Essential Carbohydrates

GRAINS AND THE ESSENTIAL CARBOHYDRATES | Grains have been staple foods for thousands of years. For example, humans have eaten rice and wheat for 10,000 years, while Middle Easterners have eaten barley for 11,000 years and Africans have had millet for 6,000 years. Some believe that our digestive system is designed to mainly digest meat and fruit; however, most of our teeth are grinders, a fact that others cite as evidence that we are grain eaters by nature. Findings have also shown that we might have eaten grains before it was originally thought to be part of our regular diet. What is beyond argument is that the consumption of carbohydrates is a crucial element in the evolution of humankind because of their impact on the development of our brains. That said, we need to remember that certain vegetables are also carbohydrates.

CARBOHYDRATES PROVIDE ESSENTIAL GLUCOSE | Brain function is fueled by glucose. The brain cells use two times more glucose than any other cells in the body, yet they cannot store glucose. This means our brains depend on a steady flow of glucose. Carbohydrates not only feed our brains, but they also provide essential energy to our entire cellular and muscular systems; in short, they enable us to move around. Because blood sugar level is a measure of energy, availability and stability, we need a steady and stable influx of glucose into our bloodstreams throughout the day; however, slow and steady is the way to go. That means choosing carbohydrates high in fiber.

GLUCOSE ABSORPTION | When our blood sugar levels are imbalanced – which happens when we eat a lot of simple carbohydrates – we experience a constant rollercoaster of ups and downs. We struggle all day to keep ourselves feeling balanced and our energy going. For some, wild swings in blood sugar level can cause a day of sugar cravings, mood swings, sleepiness or fatigue, and overeating, especially of sweets. When the blood sugar levels drop, we become hungry, moody, emotional, angry, depressed and possibly nauseous. In my book “EAT TO FEEL FULL and nourish yourself for good,” I talk about how we need to mix carbohydrates with protein and fat to make it a sustainable meal.

BOTTOM LINE | We need to stop being so scared of carbohydrates because they’re an essential energy source. Instead, we need to learn which carbohydrates support us and which hurt us. Cooked whole grain, such as barley, rye and wheat berries, can be a lovely way to have a satisfying meal, and of course, let’s not forget rice, even though it’s not part of the heritage Nordic cuisine. Rice can be a great source of good carbohydrates without the gluten, depending on which rice you use. I love to make black and wild rice as a mix, which can be a savory or sweet breakfast, snack, lunch or dinner.

Risotto made with Barley and Butternut Squash
I have always loved risotto, but the white rice is a bit too polished for me to call it healthy and nourishing.
1 cup of barley
1 cup of vegetable broth (use organic mushroom broth)
1 cup of butternut, cubed
1 whole onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of red peppercorn
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 tablespoons of untoasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons of mirin
Serves 4-6
Saute the barley, onion, garlic, peppercorn and sea salt in 2 tablespoons of oil and mirin in the stewpot for about 5 minutes on low heat. Add the cup of broth and the butternut squash. Let it simmer until the liquid is almost soaked up. Then, add 1/2 cup of broth at a time until you reach 3 cups (or more if needed).

Rice for Breakfast
Put an egg on it. Rice is a great grain for breakfast too. I cook big batches of mixed grains so that I can keep it for a couple of days. This gives me access to quick, easy grain-based breakfast meals without having to cook (or think). All I need to do is choose the toppings. I mostly use rice because I prefer to be gluten-free, but sometimes I also mix in whole oats, barley and hato mugi.

1 egg, poached
ginger, powdered
sesame seeds or gomasio

4-5 almonds, cut in chunks
2 prunes
ginger or cinnamon, powdered

Cook the rice in advance; I tend to cook it the night before and just leave it in the pot overnight to cool down. I use a donabe pot (Japanese rice clay pot), which I use to store the cooked grain in the fridge. One cup of mixed rice will need 2 1/2 cups of water and a pinch of salt.

First, rinse the rice well, and then add rice, water, and sea salt to the pot. Bring it to a boil and then simmer for 35 minutes. I turn off the heat before the grain is done cooking (while there is still a little water left on top of the grain) and leave it to finish on its own. Never stir the rice!

I don’t reheat it in the morning, but if you prefer it warm instead of room temperature, take what you need and steam heat it in a smaller pot. Just a little bit of water on the bottom of the pot will do the trick. It’s just as fast as using a microwave and far healthier.


Jeanette Bronée founded Path for Life in 2004 in hopes of bringing awareness to the healing power of learning how our choices affect us. She established the nine-step online Path for Life Self-Nourishment Program based on her integrative, mind-body approach to nourishment, which she developed over the course of a decade by helping clients transform their relationships with food. In addition to her private coaching practice, Bronée is a writer, recipe developer and motivational speaker with a specialty in emotional eating.


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