The Curious Autodidact

March 28, 2009

Whole Grains: a Healthy Choice

Filed under: helpful hints,kitchen tips — Honilima @ 8:26 pm

The USDA Food Pyramid recommends that at least half of your daily servings of grains come from whole grains. While it is easy to rely on just wheat, rice and corn to get your recommended daily allowance, expanding your repertoire of grains can be a fun and exciting way to increase the variety, flavor and texture of your favorite meals. Here are some easy ways to integrate more whole grains into your diet:

• Switching from white rice to brown rice is a simple first step. Mixing brown and white rice may help you adjust to the flavor and texture of brown rice.

• When choosing whole grain breads, always look at the ingredient list. The first ingredient should be “whole wheat flour” or “whole grain flour.” If the word “whole” is not used, then the bread is made with refined flour.

• Quinoa, though not a true whole grain, but a seed, is delicious and easy to prepare and can be used in place of rice in any meal. Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse, providing all nine of the essential amino acids. It is also high in iron, magnesium and manganese. Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) Quinoa (keen-wah) comes to us from the Andes, where it has long been cultivated by the Inca. Botanically a relative of swiss chard and beets rather than a “true” grain, quinoa cooks in about 10-12 minutes, creating a light, fluffy side dish. It can also be incorporated into soups, salads and baked goods. Commercially, quinoa is now appearing in cereal flakes and other processed foods. Though much of our quinoa is still imported from South America, farmers in high-altitude areas near the Rockies are also beginning to cultivate quinoa. Quinoa is a small, light-colored round grain, similar in appearance to sesame seeds. But quinoa is also available in other colors, including red, purple and black. Most quinoa must be rinsed before cooking, to remove the bitter residue of saponins, a plant-defense that wards off insects. Botanists are now developing saponin-free strains of quinoa, to eliminate this minor annoyance to the enjoyment of quinoa. Health bonus: The abundant protein in quinoa is complete protein, which means that it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies can’t make on their own.

Field of Millet

Field of Millet

• Millet is another lesser-known but nutritious grain that’s not just for the birds. This tiny round grain is an excellent source of manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium and comes in yellow, white, gray or red. A versatile food, millet can be served as breakfast porridge with nuts and fruits — or it can be tossed with cooked veggies and vinaigrette for a cold salad. It is also a great substitute for rice or potatoes. Millet (Panicum miliaceum) Millet is rarely served to humans in the United States – here, it’s the grain most often found in bird feeders. Yet it’s the leading staple grain in India, and is commonly eaten in China, South America, Russia and the Himalayas. Millet has a mild flavor and is often mixed with other grains or toasted before cooking, to bring out the full extent of its delicate flavor. Its tiny grain can be white, gray, yellow or red.

Amaranthus tricolor0.jpg

• Amaranth is another great alternative to more common grains. It is a very nutritious, small seed with high levels of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. Use amaranth in place of rice in stir-fry or stews, as a hot cereal or popped like popcorn. It also can be ground into flour for baking. Amaranth contains no gluten, so it must be mixed with other flours to bake bread. Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) Amaranth was a staple of Aztec culture, until Cortez, in an effort to destroy that civilization, decreed that anyone growing the crop would be put to death. Seeds were smuggled out to Asia, where local dialects referred to Amaranth as “king seed” and “seed sent by God” as a tribute to its taste and sustenance. Amaranth kernels are tiny; when cooked they resemble brown caviar. Today amaranth is making its way back, thanks to a lively, peppery taste and a higher level of protein (16%) than most other grains. In South America, it is often sold on the streets, popped like corn. Amaranth has no gluten, so it must be mixed with wheat to make leavened breads. It is popular in cereals, breads, muffins, crackers and pancakes. Health bonus: Amaranth has a high level of very complete protein; its protein contains lysine, an amino acid missing or negligible in many grains. Oats (Avena sativa) Oats have a sweet flavor that makes them a favorite for breakfast cereals. Unique among grains, oats almost never have their bran and germ removed in processing. So if you see oats or oat flour on the label, relax: you’re virtually guaranteed to be getting whole grain. In the US, most oats are steamed and flattened to produce “old-fashioned” or regular oats, quick oats, and instant oats. The more oats are flattened and steamed, the quicker they cook – and the softer they become. If you prefer a chewier, nuttier texture, consider steel-cut oats, also sometimes called Irish or Scottish oats. Steel-cut oats consist of the entire oat kernel (similar in look to a grain of rice), sliced once or twice into smaller pieces to help water penetrate and cook the grain. Cooked for about 20 minutes, steel-cut oats create a breakfast porridge that delights many people who didn’t realize they love oatmeal! Health bonus: Scientific studies have concluded that like barley, oats contain a special kind of fiber called beta-glucan found to be especially effective in lowering cholesterol. Recent research reports indicate that oats also have a unique antioxidant, avenanthramides, that helps protect blood vessels from the damaging effects of LDL cholesterol. For additional information and suggestions on how to integrate whole grains into your diet, visit wholegrainscouncil.org.

 

Information provided by: Sarah Flessner, BS, dietetic intern and Elizabeth A. Kirk, Ph.D., R.D., associate professor, School of Nutrition and Exercise Science, Bastyr University

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