By Susan Singleton, founder of Healthy Life Consulting
Whole grains have been a central element of the human diet since the dawn of civilization, when we stopped hunting and gathering and settled into agrarian communities. Until very recently, people living in these communities, on all continents, had lean, strong bodies. In the Americas, corn was the staple grain, while rice predominated in India and Asia. In Africa, people had sorghum and millet. People in the Middle East enjoyed pita bread and couscous. In Europe, it was corn, millet, wheat, rice, pasta and dark breads. Even beer, produced by grain fermentation, was considered healthy. In Scotland, it was oats. In Russia, they had buckwheat or kasha. For generations, very few people eating grain-based diets were overweight.
People are gaining weight today because they eat too much chemicalized, artificial junk food. If Americans were eating bowls of freshly cooked whole grains and vegetables every day instead of processed junk food, people would not be getting fat. Whole grains are some of the best sources of nutritional support, containing high levels of dietary fiber and B vitamins. Because the body absorbs them slowly, grains provide long-lasting energy and help stabilize blood sugar.
Incorporating whole grains into your diet is simple but be sure to pay close attention to the ingredient list and nutritional facts on all packaged goods to ensure you’re buying quality grains. Look for products that list whole grains (whole wheat, whole grain barley, etc) as one of the first ingredients. To avoid confusion in the supermarket buy 100% whole grain products or purchase whole grains on their own and add them to dishes yourself to attain their goodness while adding texture, chewy crunch and a nutty flavor.
The number and variety of whole grains readily available continues to grow. While we’re accustomed and familiar with whole oats, brown rice and popcorn-areas of the world such as Africa, the Middle East and South America have been enjoying bountiful ancient and whole grains for centuries.
Bring some diversity to your table with these powerhouses in 2012.
- Quinoa-Quinoa is one of the most versatile grains and can easily be used in place of rice or couscous. These small seeds with a fluffly texture and mild flavor are high in protein and gluten-free. They come in a Yellow and Red variety.
- Wheat Berries-This grain works well for those that can handle gluten. These whole kernels are a good source of fiber and iron. Contains Lignans, which are plant nutrients that may help reduce the risk of breast cancer. They have a chewy texture and a sweet, nutty flavor. Use as a side dish or in cold grain salads. Also works well as a pilaf, breakfast cereal or in soups and stews.
- Bulgur- Bulgur is parboiled wheat that is dried and ground to both a fine or medium grind. Most well known for the grain in the Middle Eastern salad tabbouleh. Good source of Manganese, essential for calcium absorption and bone health. Use as a meat substitute or add to pilafs, soups and baked goods.
- Spelt-This ancient grain is sweeter and more digestible that regular wheat. Those with a gluten intolerance sometimes find this an acceptable alternative to wheat and it’s also higher in Manganese and B Vitamins. You will mostly find this in breads and pasta, but health food stores will often carry it as a whole grain.
- Farro-Farro is quickly gaining popularity for its stellar nutritional profile. Lower in calories than Wheatberries and boasting twice the fiber of brown rice. Farro may help to stabilize blood sugar, lower cholesterol and stimulate the immune system. Boasting a complex, earthy flavor and creamy texture. Can be prepared risotto style. Use in soups, pastas and casseroles.
- Amaranth-This tiny grain is higher in protein than most other grains and it’s a great source of Lysine, an amino acid that’s lacking in other grains and helps the body absorb calcium and also promotes tissue growth and repair. Amaranth contains no gluten and has a peppery flavor. Try it as a hot cereal or in baked goods, casseroles, pancakes and as a rice substitute
- Millet-Millet is a delicate grain that is gluten-free and rich in Magnesium, Folic Acid, Calcium and Potassium. Contains gut-friendly probiotics It’s also a good source of disease-fighting antioxidants. Used as a staple in African and Indian diets. Use it in recipes that call for rice, in baked goods, formed into patties and cooked as a hot cereal. Freekeh-Freekeh kernels are harvested while young so Freekeh has a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than brown rice and up to four times the fiber. Use as a rice or pasta substitute or in soups and burger patties.
- Kamut-A staple in Egypt. Kamut contains Selenium, an immune system-supporting trace mineral. Use it in flour form in baking or use the grain in pilaf-style dishes, salads, soups, stews and stir-frys.
- Teff-Boasts bone-building Calcium. An Ethiopian grain used to make Injera-their signature flatbread. Slightly crunchy in texture with a rich brown color. Use in baked goods, soups and stews, hot cereal, polenta and porridge.
Storage Tip: Whole grains contain natural oils, so they can go rancid quickly. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, ideally a pantry or refrigerator, where they will last for 3-6 months.
Harvest Wheat Berry Salad
2 cups uncooked wheat berries
1 cup sunflower seed kernels
1 cup chopped apples
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1/3 cup ginger ale
3 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. lemon juice
- To prepare salad, place wheat berries in a bowl and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Soak at least 1 hour. Rinse well.
- Bring 7 cups water to a boil in a large pot. Add wheat berries, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until thoroughly cooked, approximately 40 minutes. Drain and let cool.
- Transfer wheat berries to a large bowl. Add remaining salad ingredients. *Prepare dressing by mixing all vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk. Add to salad ingredients and mix well.