The following blog is the third post in a three-part series focusing on carbohydrates and grains. In part one (Wheat’s the Truth?), Dr. Nelson talked about the difference between whole grain foods and refined grains and in part two (How to Spot a Whole Grain Contender from a Pretender), she talked about how looks can be deceiving when it comes to whole grains.
Although grains like wheat, corn, oats, and rice are the most familiar and popular to us, there’s a new group of grains in town! They’re called “ancient” grains—and they’re trending. These delicious grains are worth a try because they offer a variety of different flavors, textures, and nutrients. Some of them are even gluten-free.
The list of “ancient” grains includes amaranth, barley, bulgur, buckwheat, farro, kamut, millet, quinoa, spelt and teff. Many of these grains—Bolivian quinoa and Ethiopian teff, for example—have been planted and harvested in the same way for thousands of years. Take a trip back in time and give them a try! Each has a unique nutritional profile and a historical tale to tell.
- Amaranth was one of the world’s oldest grains and was used by the Aztecs. Both gluten- and wheat-free, amaranth is high in protein. It’s nutty, malty taste makes it perfect to blend with nuts, dried fruit and milk.
- Barley was used as far back as the Stone Age for currency, food and medicine. It is an excellent source of fiber, manganese, selenium and thiamin. This versatile grain can be added to soups, stews, cereal, salads and pilaf, or ground into flour for baked goods or desserts.
- Bulgur is an alternative to rice or couscous and is often used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is a quick cooking form of whole wheat that blends easily with toasted nuts, berries, dried fruit or vegetables.
- Buckwheat or kasha, are hulled grains from the buckwheat plant found in Eastern Europe and Russia. Add cooked buckwheat to salads, use it as a side dish, or mix with raisins or fresh fruit and honey for a healthy alternative to oatmeal.
- Farro, also referred to as emmer, is a wheat grain that was one of the first domesticated crops in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago and was used in Egyptian bread making. Farro is high in fiber and protein and commonly used in Italy as a whole grain in soup, pasta, risotto and salad dishes.
- Kamut (pronounced “ka-moot”) has a nutty flavor and is high in fiber, protein and several minerals, including selenium and manganese. It is believed to have first been grown in Egypt or Asia and was found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb! Kamut is two to three times the size of common wheat and has 20-40% more protein. Similar to dried beans, kamut needs to soak for several hours before cooking.
- Millet is a small, gluten-free whole grain food that is a staple in many Asian and African countries. It can be toasted in the oven or frying pan and mixed with seasoned veggies, meats or beans. And yes, if you are wondering… it is the same millet that is used for bird food!
- Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is the best known ancient grain, although it is not a true grain but an herb. It was a staple for the ancient Incas and revered as sacred. Quinoa is a great source of high-quality protein (8 g per serving), fiber, and the B vitamins riboflavin, thiamin, and niacin. Quinoa is versatile and can be used in salads, as a side dish or as a substitute for white rice or couscous.
- Spelt was commonly eaten in medieval times, and is high in protein and fiber. Spelt can be used instead of rice or pasta, as an oatmeal alternative, or to make muffins, waffles, pancakes, and bread.
- Teff is the world’s smallest grain and is popular in Ethiopia. This gluten-free, nutrient-dense grain is an excellent source of protein and fiber, and is high in the nutrients calcium, thiamin and iron. Uncooked teff can be used in cakes, breads, and muffins or blended into soups and stews.
Compared to refined grains – whole grains have many health benefits. Given their disease-fighting phyto-chemicals and antioxidants, along with vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, iron and fiber, they can improve digestive health, satiety, help with weight management and reduce our risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
As we discussed – at least half of the grains we eat should be whole grains. Of course, the more variety of whole grains we choose, the better our nutrient intake. Our goal should be to eat at least 3 servings of whole grains each day.
Now that you’re armed with knowledge about different whole grains – and how to buy them – it’s time to head to the grocery store and then into the kitchen to get cooking! I’ve included a recipe for you to try called Wheat Berry Salad with Dried Fruit. It’s easy to prepare and loaded with phytonutrients, along with 7g of protein, and 7 grams of fiber per serving! For less sugar, substitute raisins for the cranberries in the original recipe. Compared to cranberries, Sun-Maid raisins have no added sugar. The raisins will also give the salad a delicious smoky-caramel flavor. Enjoy!
Wheat Berry Salad with Dried Fruit
Makes: 8 servings
- 1 cup wheat berries, uncooked
- 3 cups water
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 can (15-ounces) garbanzo beans, drained
- 1 cup slivered fresh snow peas
- 1/2 cup Sun-Maid California Apricots, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup Sun-Maid Natural California Raisins
- 1/4 cup sliced green onion
- 3 tablespoons toasted walnut oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- COOK wheat berries in a large saucepan with 3 cups water and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
- BRING to a boil.
- COVER, reduce heat and simmer 45 to 60 minutes until tender.
- DRAIN any remaining water.
- COMBINE cooked wheat berries, garbanzo beans, snow peas, apricots, cranberries and green onion in a medium bowl.
- WHISK oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
- POUR over wheat berry mixture and stir to coat.
- SERVE room temperature or refrigerate up to 3 days.
Next up on the blog—it’s that time of year again for new resolutions. What’s on your “eat healthy” list? One to include: Become wise about your portion size!