One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to come up with monthly “resolutions” for myself and for anyone who follows this blog. Cooking Light magazine (which is one of my favorite sources of recipes and ideas for healthy living) had the same idea, so I am shamelessly borrowing their healthy habits!
It’s a lot easier to commit to 30 days of a new habit than a full year. So this month’s goal is to eat three servings of whole grains every day.
Definition of grains (from Wikipedia): “Cereals, grains, or cereal grains are grasses (members of the monocot families Poaceae or Gramineae)cultivated for the edible components of their fruit seeds (botanically, a type of fruit called a caryopsis): the endosperm, germ, and bran.”
“Whole grain” means you get the whole thing – the endosperm, the germ and the bran. Processed grains are only the endosperm (which is mostly carbodydrates). When you remove the germ and the bran, you are removing most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber.
How the companies cheat. In the USA, the words “whole wheat” or “whole grain” really don’t mean anything… products labeled “whole wheat” or “whole grain” may have trivial amounts of whole grain in them. You have to see “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the label to be sure it’s truly a whole grain product.
In addition to buying foods with 100% whole grains, you can add whole grains to your diet by buying and cooking the actual grain. There are lots of ways to cook grains that follow the “pizza rule” (don’t cook anything that takes longer than it takes to order a pizza).
The “easy” grains
You’ve grown up with a variety of grains – which are all familiar to you. They all come in a processed and “whole grain” version. So, if you are used to eating white rice or eating white bread, it’s time to give the whole grain versions a try!
There are 4 kinds of oatmeal you can make for breakfast. Oat groats are the untouched whole grain. Steel cut oats are oat groats – just cut up. Both of them take a long time to cook. For busy people cooking them overnight in a slow cooker or partially cooking them the night before is the way to go. The other two kinds of oatmeal (rolled and instant) are more processed (i.e. less vitamins, minerals and fiber) but are still whole grain.
Oatmeal is a great way to start the day – and it’s a fantastic middle of the night snack when you are on call. Beware the instant flavored oatmeals –they have lots of added sugar! It’s better to take a zip-lock of instant oats and a second Ziplock of dried fruit and nuts instead. And be really wary of fast food oatmeal!
BROWN RICE Rice is consumed in mass quantities all over the world. Brown rice takes about 45 minutes to cook, so you’ll have to plan ahead a little. Instant brown rice takes about 10 minutes, but the rice has been processed a little (slightly less nutritious but better than white rice). A rrice cooker is a great appliance to have (good for holiday or birthday wish lists). You can also steam veggies, shrimp, fish, etc in the rice cooker while the rice is cooking – or use it for an easy “one pot” dinner. Rice salad is a great food for call. I usually make it with celery, carrots, left over veggies, tuna and a vinaigrette – but there are a lot of variations on the theme.
Leftover rice also makes a great breakfast. You can put fruit and milk on it (like oatmeal) or put an egg over it (great with some soy sauce). (In Japan the egg is raw, but it’s probably better for health reasons to cook it first)
Popcorn. You may not think of popcorn as a whole grain, but it is. When air popped and In the absences of movie butter, it’s a healthy food item – mainly because of the amount of fiber it provides. It’s better to use your stove top or an air popper– commercial microwave popcorn is usually filled with transfats (and calories). Another alternative is homemade microwave popcorn.
Grains you may not have tried (but should)
QUINOA Quinoa is one of my favorite grains – enough that I did a post on it a few months ago. If you are going to wander into the “unusual” grains, this would be where to start. Quinoa takes about 30 minutes to cook on the stovetop. You can eat it plain or serve it instead of rice in any recipe. If you have a rice cooker, you can use the white rice setting and it will cook perfectly. Put a few veggies (and maybe some shrimp, fish or chicken) into the rice cooker (or steam them on the stove) and you have a dinner like this:
BARLEY Barley is the grain used in most beers… which does not count as a whole grain food item! It’s a chewy, nutty grain that is delicious in soups, casseroles and salads. The classic combination (which is very delicious) is barley and beef – usually in a stew. If you have the time, it’s well worth it. For a faster combination you might try this recipe (add some chicken or pre-cooked beef if you want)
SPELT Spelt is often sold in the stores as farro (from Italy). Farro is delicious. by itself, in salads or soups. It’s also great in risottos– it takes longer than rice to cook in a risotto, but you don’t have to stir.
MILLET Millet is a small grain that, like the other grains can be used in salads, casseroles or as a cereal. It’s a little more bland (less nutty) than the other grains, so it’s probably better to use it in more flavorful recipes.
WILD RICE Wild rice is in a completely different species than brown rice. Like many of the whole grains it takes 40-60 minutes to cook on the stove. It’s often used in stuffings for chicken or other poultry and is also great in pilafs and casseroles.
TEFF Anyone who has ever eaten Ethiopian food has had teff. Teff flour is what is used in injera, the large flat bread used to eat Ethiopian meals. Teff is the smallest grain in nature, and has high levels of protein, calcium, iron and fiber. I recently tried it for breakfast (with dried fruits and honey). It reminded me of a nutty cream of wheat. It’s really dense (and becomes gelatinous in the refrigerator) – but it was a nice change for breakfast.
AMARANTH Amaranth can be boiled or popped like popcorn. Because they are smaller than other seeds, amaranth only takes about 20 minutes to cook. Smaller seeds tend to have more concentrated nutrients; amaranth is high in calcium and protein.
Like teff, this is probably best tried as a breakfast item if you want to experiment.