Whole grains are good for you. You should eat more whole grains… yawn…. This is a message we have been hearing for years but how many of us are getting bored with the same few choices we make for that part of our diet? There’s got to be more to it. You bet!
First, a reminder about grains. They form an important part of a healthy diet and offer a terrific source of fibre that is low in fat and contributes to the fight against chronic disease like stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Canada’s Food Guide recommends three portions of whole grains daily, but even one can make a difference. And for anyone watching their weight, fibre-rich foods make you feel full and satisfied.
Grains are a good choice in general, but it is whole grain that is most beneficial. Grains are often the seeds of certain plants. The seed (or kernel) is made up of the bran, endosperm and the germ, all of which contain valuable nutrients that play an important role in your diet. Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel; processed grains remove much of the bran and germ and are likely to be bleached. This ‘refining’ removes much of the healthy ingredients found in the whole grain.
The traditional list of grains includes wheat, rice, oats, barley, corn, wild rice and rye, among others. All offer variety in taste, products and benefits. Even so, it is in our nature to look for variety: whole grains are no exception.
In addition to the more common grains, there are ample alternatives to tease your taste buds while delivering the benefits of whole grain. You can introduce variety with specialty grains from around the world. While not necessarily available in your mainstream grocery store, specialty and health food stores often stock or can source these for you. Here are a few alternatives to consider.
Quinoa is probably the most common of the ancient grains. It came from the Andes where the Inca called it the ‘mother of all grains.’ It is rich in protein and can be found in more than 100 varieties. Another South American option is amaranth. This tiny grain looks similar to couscous and has a nutty, peppery flavour. It is considered one of the most complete whole grains because the grains are too small to refine.
Farro is a nutty, chewy grain originally from Egypt and often used in Italy as a substitute in risotto dishes, it is often made into pasta. Also African, this time from Ethiopia, teff offers a slightly sweet taste; lighter seeds are mild while darker varieties taste fuller and earthier. Teff grains are tiny, much like poppy seeds, making it an ideal whole grain.
A grain common in the Middle Eastern and North African cuisine is freekeh. However, this refers to a process, not a grain. In this case, the grain, usually wheat, is harvested when it is young, yellow and soft, and at its peak nutrition. It tends to have a nutty, smoky flavour.
Wheat berries are not technically a grain. Rather, they are the whole kernel of the wheat plant with only the inedible outer husks removed. Wheat berries resemble short-grain brown rice and are the least processed of all wheat products making them richer in whole fibre and nutrients.
Other great grains include barley, spelt, buckwheat (actually a grass not related to wheat) and others. Explore the grains section of your grocery or health food store. You will be surprised at the variety you can add to your diet.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Dr. Paul Martiquet