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Laila Meija

                                                                                                                                                               Image - laila meija.png

 Rye producing strength

When patients visit Laila Meija, a doctor-dietician, for a consultation for losing weight, sometimes they proudly say: "I do not eat bread any longer!" as if they had made the first step towards losing weight. "Why don't you eat it? Don't you like bread?" the dietician usually asks. "Bread is not at all the main source of spare calories. Unfortunately, a lot of wrong information about losing weight is widespread in the society. These wrong assumptions should be dispelled," the associate professor of Riga Stradins' University, the Head of the Dietology Service at P. Stradins' Clinical University Hospital says. She can be trusted because Laila Meija has written a research project about rye bread and knows how healthy bread baked from whole-grain rye flour is.

- Which part of the nutrition pyramid have dieticians allocated to cereals?

- Recently our nutrition experts do not develop nutrition pyramids but nutrition plates. I think this presentation is easier to understand for a person. On the imaginary plate of healthy food recommended for nutrition cereals occupy one fourth and one half of this should be whole-grain products. Of course, this is not only whole-grain bread, but also porridge rich in fibre, rice, pasta, beans and peas. This is the recommendation by professional experts that needs to be taken into account if we want to lead a healthy life and eat healthy.

- Is it better to choose in particular rye from among all cereals?

- Depending on the region where people live, these cereals can be wheat, rye, barley, corn, millet, as well as pseudo cereals like buckwheat, brown and wild rice. In Latvia rye is easily grown, they have been the basis of our nutrition for thousands of years. Moreover, it is important that also the emotional value of rye bread is added to its nutritional value in Latvia.

- In which countries major eaters of rye bread live?

- In our countries, in the Baltic countries, in Scandinavia, Denmark, Iceland, Poland. It is in these European countries where there are best rye harvests, therefore we favour it. Rye bread is consumed also in Russia, however, little information is available to researchers about consumption of cereals in the large territory of Russia.

- What does a rye grain consist of and what of that is particularly valuable for us?

- The germ of a rye grain contains fat, vitamins, various ferments. A human body needs all these substances. Unfortunately, some producers are trying hard to remove fat from the germ because fat oxidises faster, therefore the shelf-life of flour decreases. The middle part of a grain contains mainly starch, proteins, composite carbohydrates, which are split and transform into glucose, sugar in a human body. This means that the middle part of a grain is mainly the source of energy. It is very necessary for young people and also people with high physical activity. If there are too much carbohydrates and they are not consumed, spare fat forms in the body. The multi-layered shell of a rye grain is very valuable. It contains soluble and insoluble proteins, valuable antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Whole-grain bread contains all the three above components, but refined flour contains just starch. For comparison, rye grain contains more fibre than wheat grain, therefore rye bread is more healthy and recommendable.

- However, there is a live myth: the more cereals we produce, the more we consume and thus become increasingly more fat...

- There is no causal relationship between these facts. With the same success we can then say as follows: the more cars we produce, the more we drive, the less we walk and therefore become more fat. Isn't it logic? Bread is not to blame that we select wrong life-style. Actually, scientific research attests that people who have more whole-grain bread in their nutrition are thinner and have a better control of their weight. If you eat whole-grain bread, the body receives less calories, the stomach content is evacuated more slowly, the feeling of being full comes faster and this is what protects people from over-eating.

- The patients of diabetes of type two, the number of which has increased a lot both globally and also in Latvia, are advised by doctors to refrain from eating bread or restrict it.

 - It is not necessary to refrain from whole-grain bread, eating of white bread with a high glycaemic index should be refrained from. When white-bread which is usually baked from wheat flour is eaten, the body sugar level increases, the insulin level grows and sugar turns into fat after a certain time. However, when whole-grain rye bread is eaten it helps to stabilise the blood sugar level. This is not a story composed by dieticians, this is information based on evidence.

- But also whole-grain rye bread contains sugar, doesn't it?

- Yes, unfortunately, but still it is less than in white-bread. Of course, it would be possible not to add any sugar to whole-grain bread. Some producers do this. Recently in Latvia it is possible to buy rye bread to which no sugar is added or its amount is very little. Still, at bread testing people usually admit that bread with added sugar is more tasty.

- The same also applies to added salt.

- Unfortunately a human is weak! We have got used to salt and sugar and we cannot do without them even for benefit of our health. It is hard to blame producers that they deliver what we demand.

- Can you mention any reason why we should choose whole-grain bread instead of bread made from refined flour?

- It is very important for people suffering from cardiovascular diseases (and there are so many of them in Latvia) to prefer this type of bread. Eating of rye bread reduces the level of cholesterol, blood fat and even makes blood thinner. I said before that a rye grain contains antioxidants which fight all chronic diseases in the body. Why should medicines be used when equal effect can be achieved by healthy eating of bread?!

- It is said that fibre contained by whole-grain bread also improves the bowel emptying process which is very important for elderly people.

- Yes, one can say that nutrition has turned into medicine for us. Impact of rye bread upon a human organism has been studies a lot in Finland. Finnish researchers have assessed how much money people spend for buying medicine for improving the bowels emptying process. It turns out that the same effect can be achieved by eating whole-grain bread and expenses would be considerably lower in this case.

Doctors have found that fibre also prevents formation of cancer cells. When I was working on my study I also studied in detail the research made by global scientists in this area. In one of Thesis Projects a study was performed regarding impact of rye bread upon the condition of patients suffering from prostate cancer. The persons whose surgery was scheduled in two months during the waiting time were first given only wheat bread for two weeks and then whole-grain rye bread for four weeks. It turned out that during this last stage the sick body was more successfully fighting cancer cells than when wheat bread was eaten.

- Thus, could the load words be pronounced: the more fibre we eat, the more mortality decreases?

- This is true. It is also true that fibre can be found not only in whole-grain bread. It is also in beans, peas, lentil and cabbage. The only difference is in the amount of, for example, cabbage to be eaten in order for the body to get as much fibre as there are in rye bread. The answer is - a bucket would do! A human cannot do this, therefore let's rather eat bread and, of course, not reject cabbage as well. Cereals are the main source of fibre in our region. According to the estimations by Scandinavian researchers, we eat 41 per cent of all fibre by eating rye bread. In Latvia this number could be very similar.

- Can you recommend a bread dose a person should eat daily?

- It will differ. Men should have more than women. Young persons should have more than retired persons. Of course, the daily dose also depends on the amount of other products of this group we consume daily. On the above referred place of healthy nutrition products of plant origin should take three fourths, i.e. vegetable, fruit and also whole-grain bread. Athletes, people with high physical activity level would have bread as the necessary source of strength and energy. The needed amount of starch is contained also by pasta, potatoes, rice, but, for example, when going on a difficult hike it is simpler and easier to take a slice of bread than a box with rice. I also advise the ones who work in a sitting position to have a slice of bread during a break instead of sweet biscuits.   

- Still, there are people for whom eating bread is even harmful.

- First, celiac disease patients should not eat bread. Doctors also know a disease referred to as resistance to wheat. There are people whose bodies would not accept rough bread. Some patients who have recently had intestine surgery should also refrain from eating rye bread in the beginning. I can also mention that patients with reduced weight due to a disease and simultaneous anaemia should not eat rye bread. However, the number of such people is very low globally. Rye bread will do good for everybody else.

- So, should we eat rye bread without being afraid of extra calories we receive?

- In ancient times rye bread was the basic dish for Latvians, it was the source of strength and energy, why should it be different nowadays? While I was studying the Finnish experience, I noticed some expressions used by Finns. For example, bread helps both a horse and a man to work hard; the first slice is the slice of strength to the landlord and the person growing bread. Or  - rye producing strength. Brief and to the point!