For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering two reader questions. First, I answer a very specific question about blackstrap molasses, that nutrient-dense sweetener with the distinctive taste. How can a person who hates molasses work it into their diet? Next, I address concerns surrounding a set of healthy whole grain studies that I’m sure you’ve been hearing about. Are whole grains really healthy? Will they make you live long and prosper? Is there something unique to whole grains we’re missing out on?
Hey Mark? Could you do something about how to incorporate blackstrap molasses into the diet? Everything I try is disgusting.
If you do dairy, mixing a tablespoon into a cup of milk is probably the most palatable. It’s downright delicious.
Add it to coffee, but only if you also add cream. Make sure not to add too much. Aim for slight sweetness. Once you start using blackstrap molasses to make foods taste sweet, you’re overdoing it. It gets gross fast.
A buddy of mine swears by a molasses smoothie: raw milk, molasses, crushed ice, instant coffee. He also agrees that you shouldn’t add so much molasses that it gets sweet, because that’s how you know you’ve gone too far.
Blackstrap goes well with winter squashes, highlighting the subtle nutty sweetness of a butternut, a delicata, an acorn. Drizzle thin ribbons, follow with salted butter, and you’re good to go.
This sounds weird, but trust me. Next time you have a handful of mixed nuts, add a little drizzle of blackstrap on top. It helps if the nuts are salted.
I’ll sometimes mix a tablespoon of blackstrap with a tablespoon of cider vinegar in a cup, fill it with ice, and add sparkling water. Quite refreshing and rejuvenating after a long hot hike or game of Ultimate.
Molasses ganache is nice. Melt 85% dark chocolate with a tablespoon of molasses in some heavy cream. Maybe a pinch of cayenne.
You might just have to tough it out, pour a tablespoon, and take it directly. Tell yourself that you’re getting 25% of the magnesium, 20% of the calcium, and 13% of the potassium you need for the day in that one tablespoon. You can handle having something gross in your mouth for few short moments.
I’m assuming that you are already planning on responding to this, but just in case, I’d love to see what you think about this recommendation – 90 grams of grains a day?!
Just like all the others, these findings and recommendations are based on observational studies: research which tracks correlations, not interventions.
And like all the others, it can’t make accurate recommendations. The same problems apply:
Lack of true control. We’re comparing whole grain eaters to refined grain eaters. Everyone who’s “normal” eats grains. As much as this movement has taken off, the vast majority of the population eats refined, not whole grains. “Across all age groups…the public exceeds recommendation intakes of refined grains.” Does the analysis include a “Primal” group of people avoiding all grains—refined and whole—but eating tubers, vegetables, and fruit? The increase in mortality among the folks eating refined grains may be relevant for the folks eating refined grains, but that’s not you. That’s not my readership. I’d love to see that group pitted against healthy whole grain consumers.
Healthy user bias. “Everyone knows” whole grains are healthy. You’d imagine that people who choose whole grains are going to be following other healthy lifestyle and diet practices, right? Well, the authors of the study came to the same conclusion, admitting that “people with a high intake of whole grains might have different lifestyles, diets, or socioeconomic status than those with a low intake.”
The most believable explanation—and the only potential causal mechanism they explore in depth—is that the fiber grains provide has a beneficial effect on the gut biome, producing short chain fatty acids and reducing inflammation. I buy this, actually. For instance, most Americans get the majority of their paltry intake of resistant starch via whole grains, because for most Americans, eating green bananas and plantains, cooking and cooling potatoes, and making potato starch smoothies are rare behaviors (it is a little weird when you stop and think). If soluble, fermentable fibers like inulin and resistant starch are behind the supposed benefits of whole grains, shouldn’t the soluble, fermentable fibers found in non-grain, totally Primal foods work just as well?
The fact is that if you’re gonna eat grains, whole ones are healthier. If you’re going to obtain a large portion of your energy intake from grains, eating the ones with more micronutrients is better than eating the ones with none. That’s what this study says. It can’t say much about your Primal way of eating, though. We need direct comparisons to do that.
Don’t lose sleep over this one. If you’ve got a family member eating whole grains, and they appear to be healthy, they’re probably going to be okay.
That’s about it for today, folks. I hope these answers helped, and if you have anything to add (or ask), do so down below!