Wholegrain cornmeal

Wholegrain cornmeal gives me a bellyache.

In America it's called grits; and in South Africa mealiemeal.

I think it’s common knowledge that the Zulu people do not like wholegrain mealiemeal because it gives them a bellyache. I must confess it also provokes indigestion in my white tum.

The result is that they eat super-refined mealiemeal; the first and foremost problem is that devoid of all the nutrients it is absolutely tasteless; masses of sugar and salt must be added.

Instead we add a teaspoon of natural honey to our tasty wholegrain cornmeal, a tad of butter and some fruit; and a little unpasteurised yoghurt. It's completely gluten-free.

100% cornmeal with blueberries

Most white people in South Africa don’t eat mealiemeal, wholegrain or refined except occasionally perhaps as pap with a braai. Instead they like cornflakes, equally devoid of nutrients and flavour with the same net result; too much sugar and salt. And in this case a massive fifteen-times rise in price.

  • Yellow corn in January, 2023 costs R4,600 / ton
  • Cornflakes costs R70,000 / ton.
  • White Star super maizemeal costs R10,520 / ton (R262,95 /25kg Makro)
Kellogg's corn flakes for R69.99

It’s also common knowledge that in many Zulu villages that half of the children are permanently stunted, mentally and/or physically.

Permanently as in cannot be fixed, not now nor ever.

Is there a connection between the bellyache from eating wholegrains and stunting? There most certainly is. Millers remove not only the germ and bran but also much of the protein, ostensibly to please the consumer but also they are able to sell the best parts at great profit. If not a frank kwashiorkor certainly there is subclinical deficiency of amino acids in the diet of many children in South Africa.

All the nutritional research, and there’s heaps of it, is that whole grains are good for us but those that are refined makes us fat and raise the spectre of type-2 diabetes; in part because of all the sugar that has to be added to give them some taste.

As an ardent believer in whole grains it’s a fact that I have had to face. Both a fresh loaf of bread made from 100% flour and our coarse-ground mealiemeal have to be eaten with caution; bellyache.

The solution was discovered entirely by accident. Wholegrain mealiemeal takes extra cooking for the bran to hydrate properly, so I prepare enough for several days and keep the leftovers in the fridge. Lo and behold, day 1 gives me a bellyache, but once cooled, refrigerated and reheated the next morning there is absolutely no pain after the meal.

In similar vein experienced bakers say we should never eat bread straight from the oven; ostensibly because cooling gives time to brings out the flavour. But also, enjoying today’s 100% wholegrain loaf tomorrow means no bellyache for me.

Gluten is often wrongly fingered, I believe, as the cause of the bloating and pain from eating bread. It is far more complex than that. A chemical, transglutaminase that is commonly added to the commercial loaf certainly shares some of the guilt, perhaps most of it. And so does enjoying a slice when it’s too fresh.


So what happens when a starch is cooked and then cooled, with the possibility of reheating the following day in the case of a porridge?

It’s complex biochemistry, so I will not go into the details but starches consist of long chains of sugar molecules. When they are cooked they lose their crystalline structure, absorbing water and forming a gooey mess. They are then readily digested by enzymes in the small intestine turning them rapidly into many thousands of glucose units.

They are then rapidly absorbed into the portal blood stream, taken to the liver where the molecules are turned into triglycerides and other compounds. In short, starches cause a sharp spike in blood glucose, especially in those who are insulin resistant; which many of us are if we have been living on a diet high in refined carbs and sugar.

But if that gooey mess is first cooled before being consumed, it regains its crystalline structure with powerful hydrogen bonds linking the glucose molecules together; this makes it far more difficult for the enzymes to digest and a greater proportion passes unaffected through the small intestine, reaching the colon instead where it is fallen upon by the bugs known as the normal flora.

In biochemical terms, refrigerating your cooked carb “retrogrades” the molecules, turning it into so-called resistant starch; retarding digestion and absorption as glucose in the small intestine.

Highly refined mealiemeal, eaten freshly-cooked certainly spikes our blood glucose; it also has little of the fibre, protein and fat that slow absorption. Add salt and sugar and one is well on the way to T2D; Dr Campbell’s twenty year diabetes rule[1] is invoked.

Dr George Campbell, MD

Prevalence diabetes us 20 year rule

Dr George Campbell was a truly remarkable man who did immensely powerful research on the Indians and Zulus in KZN as they became urbanised. Alas his work and recommendations as far as refined carbs and sugar are concerned have been totally ignored resulting in the calamitous state of affairs of well-being in South African. We are one of the very most unhealthy countries in the whole world.

George Campbell's 20-year diabetes rule stands unchallenged and accepted in the scientific world. Refined carbs make us obese and T2D now is prevalent in over 30% of many population groups in South Africa.

But back to wholegrain mealiemeal giving us a bellyache. No one seems quite sure but other things also happen when we allow starches to retrograde; they no longer give us pain as they would when newly cooked. I’m uncertain but I suspect that the traditional way of making putu before the arrival of the modern mill may get around the bellyache of freshly prepared starches.

The net result of all this is that affordable whole grains are extremely difficult to come by because folk do not have the patience or understanding to allow them to retrograde overnight. An innovative East Griqualand miller sells excellent white mealiemeal at the Rotunda but alas there is no sell-by date; you have no idea when it was ground. The farmers’ market at Reko Hilton is the only other place that I know of.

Department of health

Unfortunately there is no understanding of these matters at the Department of Health it would seem; there are no attempts on their part to warn people of the dangers of consuming refined grains.

And even many well-meaning NGOs include white rice, sugar and refined mealiemeal in their “basic” food baskets and supply them to the hungry.

Allow your wholegrain starches to retrograde; tuck in and enjoy them. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and protein; good fat, fibre and phytonutrients that promote health and help prevent disease too. They are one of the “functional foods” as they are known[2].

Yello corn meal

The happy tum

Nearly 50% of people have an unhappy tum, in one way or another. That might be dyspepsia due to a hiatus hernia, constipation and other more complex conditions; gluten or lactose intolerance, for example.

Wholegrain cornmeal contributes without a doubt to the happy tum but it does need to be done with discretion; allowing time for full hydration and retrogradation of the starch is important. 

As is regular use of probiotic foods to supply the microbiome; the 2kg of friendly bugs in the tum that are absolutely essential for wellness. Required is not only a large number of bacteria, viruses and yeast cells but also the diversity of these helpful little creatures; so we recommend kefir[5] and other fermented dishes like sauerkraut too.

Natural unprocessed honey incidentally has a low GI.

kefir bubbling in funnelKefir is a very strong yoghurt.

Your wholegrain cornmeal provides the fibre that the microbiome must have; it also helps prevent constipation.

Wholegrain cornmeal

Wholegrain cornmeal known as grits in America should be allowed to retrograde overnight.


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