All Aboard the Grain Train

The key to getting the most out of your diet is variety. Many healthy eaters have a diverse intake of fruits and vegetables but get stuck eating the same three whole grains: wheat, brown rice, and oats. These grains are excellent additions to anyone’s diet, but it’s important to branch out and explore the wide world of whole grains since each offers a slightly different nutrient profile.


Whole grain has not been processed and contains all its parts—the bran, germ, and endosperm. All these parts contain valuable nutrients, such as fiber, selenium, potassium, and magnesium. The process of milling removes the bran and germ from the grain, leaving it with less nutritional benefits. Sometimes manufacturers add nutrients back into the final food product, but these don’t compare to real whole grains.

It’s important to look at food labels to see “100% whole grain” to know what you’re getting. Products that just say things like “multigrain” can be made with a mix of refined grains and whole grains.

Whole grains can help protect against cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and colorectal cancer. They also are helpful in maintaining overall digestive health. Taking isolated forms of fiber and other nutrients just doesn’t have the same effect as eating them together in their natural state. Scientists attribute this to the fact that the nutrients probably work together synergistically with other unidentified components in the food to produce their nutrition advantages.


For a tasty low-cal snack, enjoy 5 cups of low-fat popcorn seasoned with smoked Spanish paprika, a dash of chili powder, and a light sprinkling of reduced-fat Parmesan cheese.


For a quick breakfast, toast two slices of whole rye bread and spread each slice with 1 tbsp. reduced-fat cream cheese. Serve with a fresh piece of fruit.


To cook hulled barley, take 1 cup of dry grain and add it to 3 cups of water. Cover it, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes. Use hulled barley in the place of rice or mashed potatoes as a side dish. You can also eat it at breakfast with fruit like you would with oatmeal.


Cooking this rice-like grain is simple. Take ½ cup of millet and let it simmer in a saucepan with 1½ cups of water. Millet goes great as a pilaf-style dish. To make a mushroom-millet pilaf, sauté ½ cup sliced mushrooms with ½ cup diced onions in a pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine in a bowl with 4 cups cooked millet, and season with ½ tsp. thyme and 1 tbsp. tamari sauce. (Makes 4 servings.)

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