SPENT GRAIN: IS THIS THE NEXT “SUPERFOOD”?
Author: Ben Champion
Contributor: Matt Mechtly
Before we dive into that question, let’s first define what a “Superfood” is. Are superfoods some obscure looking fruit you’ve never heard of? Do they all have to taste terrible by definition??
If you happen to know what a superfood is, then congratulations: you just might be the only one! According to many sources like Wikipedia and VICE, “superfood” is used purely as a marketing term. Getting its start in 1949, the term was actually first used to describe the health benefits of muffins. Go figure. In short, “superfood” really means nothing besides a threefold increase in price. “Spent Grain” however, means quite a bit.
I know you probably haven’t heard of spent grain, but it’s quickly becomes a popular choice for many individuals striving to live a healthier life. Not because it’s a “superfood” (again, we’ll avoid that misleading term here), but because of its tangible nutritional benefits. Foods crafted using spent grain are lower in carbohydrates, gluten-reduced, and high in both fiber and protein. Later, we’ll get into why these factors should matter to you—if you’re trying to make healthier food choices for your family or lose weight.
SPENT GRAIN COMES FROM…BEER?
Believe it or not, Spent Grain is what’s leftover after breweries have made beer. The New York Times published an article highlighting spent grain and described the process like this: “Brewing relies on grains, typically malted barley, which are first soaked in hot water. This step releases sugars that are crucial to the later production of alcohol. Once those sugars are released into the liquid, the grain is discarded.”
Unfortunately, that’s correct ☹
Breweries discard millions of tons worth of grain each year once they finish producing their beers. And that’s just in the United States! Here at Grain4Grain, we thought that was a low-key tragedy, and we dreamed of a day when none of this resource would go to waste. Years of work later, we finally developed new drying and milling techniques that allow us to repurpose the spent grain into something quite surprising: spent grain flour. At Grain4Grain, we call this flour “Barely Barley Flour,“ since there are barley any carbs left after this process.
This repurposing process, also known as “upcycling” (sorry for the jargon), is reshaping the way we dine, cook, and discard. The upcycling of spent grain into Barely Barley Flour is an arrangement beneficial to everyone involved. Breweries appreciate this process, because they no longer have to waste pounds and pounds of spent grain. At Grain4Grain, we benefit, because we can transform spent grains into delicious, healthy food options. Most importantly, people just like you get to experience the joy of eating products and recipes made with a low carb flour that isn’t bad for the environment (as much as I love almond butter).
If the story ended there, it would be interesting, but nothing to write home about. But, *spoiler alert* it doesn’t: the flour itself offers some serious nutritional benefits.
PROTEIN, FIBER, AND (FEW) CARBS…OH MY!
So the brewer takes barley and *poof* magically removes almost all the carbs from it. What do you have leftover? Pretty much just the protein and fiber originally in the barley. So essentially, you have a flour that has:
1) A whole bunch of protein
2) A whole bunch of fiber
3) Barely any carbs
Before we get into this next section, I want to be completely transparent. I am not a formally registered dietician. I am just someone who lost more than 40 pounds after discovering how much easier dieting was if I focused on eating more fiber and protein. I hope some of you will discover that freedom like I did.
So everyone knows protein is foundational to a healthy diet. And while “protein” has almost become a bit of a buzzword lately (I’m looking at you undisclosed cracker company that claims “high protein” on the front and then only has 5g of protein per serving), it might be something that you’re still not getting enough of in your diet.
But why should you believe me? I’m just a random dude with a keyboard and an internet connection. Let’s look at some more reputable sources. In this article, Healthline discusses the top benefits of having a protein rich diet. In summary, a higher protein diet can help you do the following:
· Reduce appetite and hunger levels
· Increase muscle mass and strength
· Boost metabolism and increase fat burning
· Help maintain weight loss
At the risk of sounding like a broken record (do you remember those?...I don’t), MyFitnessPal backs up this claim as well. “Protein is a key macronutrient that can promote weight loss by contributing to muscle growth and keeping you satiated so you don’t overeat or snack all day long. It’s also a major component in maintaining healthy bones, skin, hair, and nails.”
You might be thinking “Ok, author guy, I need protein. But I sometimes have burgers and quinoa, so that should be enough right?”
Well, to answer that question, I would say “maybe or maybe not!”
The FDA recommends 50g of protein for the average 2000 calorie diet. That’s the equivalent of about one chicken breast per day. Doesn’t seem like much, does it? Well, that’s because it really isn’t. The original Daily Recommended Values for protein were actually established in 1990 by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, and would you believe it: new science has emerged in the past 29 years. Especially if you lead a more active lifestyle, this amount of protein just may not cut it for reaching your goals.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dieticians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine state the following: “Current data suggest that dietary protein intake necessary to support metabolic adaptation, repair, remodeling, and for protein turnover generally ranges from 0.55 to 0.9 g/lb/day.” In other words, they suggest that a 150lb person get a higher protein amount closer to 125g/day. Yea, that’s only about two-and-a-half times more protein than the FDA recommends.
In certain cases where weight loss is occurring, “a higher protein intake (1 vs 0.45 g/lb/day)…was found to [better] retain muscle mass while losing weight and body fat.” That’s the equivalent of 150g of protein per day for a 150lb person. And for those who are trying to get all ripped and sexy doing resistance training (a fancy term for weightlifting), these beneficial ranges of protein intake can even go as high as 1.5g/lb/day, or 225g of protein for a 150lb individual.
My point is this: there’s a difference between the Recommended Daily Values set nearly 30 years ago and more recent studies. These studies indicate that a protein intake at least two times higher than the FDA recommends is probably closer to optimal.
Oh fiber. You know you need more of it, but you just can’t eat anymore vegetable without arti-choking on them. Well lucky for you, spent grain is super high in fiber! Like really high. By weight, Barely Barley Flour is more than 40% fiber. To put that in context, Healthline put together a list of the top 22 fiber-rich foods. The highest fiber food on that list only had a fiber content of 34%.
Well I happened to smell some brussels sprouts yesterday, I should be good on fiber for like a week, right?
Most likely not. Jokes aside, the vast majority of people don’t get enough fiber. According to an analysis published in 2017, “only about 5% of the populations meets [fiber] recommendations, and inadequate intakes have been called a public health concern.” That’s 19 out of every 20 people that don’t get enough fiber in their diet!
So obviously, Americans as a whole don’t get enough fiber. But what are we missing out on by not getting enough?
The Harvard School of Public Health states that “fiber helps regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check.” In other words, increasing fiber consumption can be helpful to people trying to lose or maintain their current body weight. With respect to disease reduction, fiber “is associated with digestive health and reduced risk for heart disease, stroke, hypertension, certain gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.”
Fiber, in short, will allow you to live forever. Ok, not really, but fiber does help with dieting, reduces the risk of several diseases, and there’s a 95% change you’re not getting enough of it.
Carbohydrates can be a good source of energy for your body. In fact going completely without carbs over the long-term may not be a great idea. However, restricting them can pay dividends in your journey to health, wellness, and weight loss—even more so than a typical calorie restricted diet. Yes, by far the biggest factor in determining your long term weight change—in addition to exercise—is how many total calories you eat. (unless you’ve somehow figured out how to violate the First Law of Thermodynamics). Still, for many individuals, a low-carb diet can be a great way to help reduce calories and can even be preferable to a typical lower calorie diet. This is because many people are less hungry on a lower carb diet compared to a higher carb one
Additionally, a 2018 study suggests that a lower carbohydrate diet might cause dieters to have a higher Basal Metabolic Rate than those on a higher carbohydrate diet. Or, translated into English, this mean that a low carb diet might help you burn more calories just laying on your couch than a higher carbohydrate diet would. Two other studies also suggests that restricting carbohydrates can help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes and improve the condition of those who have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
If, however, you’re either overweight or diabetic, low-carb diets may be even more beneficial for you. People with type 2 diabetes improved their insulin sensitivity through a lower carbohydrate diet. In a separate study, these lower carb diets were shown to “reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes” more than a higher carbohydrate diet.
To summarize, a carbohydrate restricted diet may have additional benefits that a typical calorie restricted diet does not. More importantly though, lower carb diets might help you stay on your diet longer and lose more weight. Dieting is hard enough. You don’t have to make it any harder on yourself.