How familiar are you with Spelt, Teff, Quinoa & Bulgur? No, these are not the associates of a fancy law firm. They’re the names of nutritious whole grains that should be part of a healthy diet.
Why whole grains?
“Whole grains are rich in B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and chromium – and are great sources of both fiber and nutrients,” says Deborah Straub, M.S., R.D., nutritionist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson.
“Our diets are very low in magnesium because we eat so many processed grains,” she adds, noting that a typical American diet provides only 100 to 200 mg. of magnesium a day while the recommended dietary allowance for men is 400 mg. and 300 mg. for women. Whole grains contain this important nutrient and provide fiber as well – another significant dietary requirement.
According to Straub, “Fiber is important because it regulates bowel movements, supports the growth of healthy bacteria in your intestinal tract, adds satiety so you’ll feel full longer, and has been associated with lowering the risk of breast cancer and helping control blood sugar levels.”
What are whole grains?
The grain family includes rice, corn and wheat. Many of these grains are extensively refined and lose much of their nutritional value (think instant rice and white bread). Whole grains, on the other hand, are minimally processed and include all three parts of a grain kernel: the bran, germ and endosperm.
“The most important thing to look for in whole-grain foods are those that are minimally processed, for example old-fashioned oatmeal vs. instant, stone-ground vs. white bread, and muesli vs. a processed cold cereal. Dense and grainy is the key to selecting healthy whole-grain foods, like stone-ground whole-wheat bread with seeds and nuts,” suggests Straub.
What to buy
It’s surprisingly easy to incorporate whole grains into your diet once you know what to look for. They can be part of any meal, from breakfast to dessert. Here are some of the commonly available whole grains and suggested dishes to help you bring them into your kitchen and onto your plate:
- Brown rice – chewy and nutty, this rice retains its bran coating making it a more nutritious choice than white rice. Great as a side or in a pilaf.
- Basmati – a fluffy, slightly perfumed long grain rice from the Himalayas, you can find a brown version in most health food stores. It makes a great side dish, try it in saffron or Mexican rice.
- Quinoa – pronounced keen-wah – this bead-like ancient grain of the Incas is one of the most balanced sources of protein and complex carbohydrates around. It can easily be made into a pilaf, added to soup or used in puddings.
- Barley - a great source of iron, you can throw a handful into soup in place of noodles or pasta.
- Stone-ground corn – available at most health food and gourmet stores, this healthier, less processed version of corn meal can be used in baking or to make polenta.
- Oats – minimally processed oats, like those in old-fashioned oatmeal, are tasty and terrific. Think about breakfast muesli or oatmeal cookies.
- Bulgur wheat – these steamed, dried and crushed wheat kernels are used extensively in Middle Eastern cuisine. Use them in a healthy tabbouleh salad.
- Wild rice - actually a long grain marsh grass native to the United States, this chewy grain makes a great cold rice salad with toasted nuts and dried fruit.
You can find the more exotic grains like spelt (one of the oldest cultivated grains) and teff (used in Ethiopian cuisine to make bread) in some health food stores, international markets and on the Internet. Packaged rice and grain blends are also available in many grocery stores and make quick healthy pilafs. Whole grains are a delicious part of any cuisine – and can help you stay health for life.