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The ABCs of Whole Grains

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By: Catherine Staffieri

“Whole grain” may seem like a vague term, but it is cropping up on food labels and in media articles everywhere. So, what are whole grains? Whole grains are not refined, meaning they are less processed, and therefore contain more of what nature gave them, like fiber, vitamins and healthy fats. By processing and refining grains, all the good stuff is lost and what is left is just plain starch. Who wants that?

Whole grains are an important part of an everyday diet. They have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. And with the extra fiber, whole grains can improve your digestive health and help you feel fuller, longer.

It’s important to remember that whole grains are a lot more than just whole wheat bread. Here are 3 more options, all gluten-free to add some variety to your family’s whole grain diet:

A is for Amaranth

Amaranth is native to South America and dates back to the Aztecs. It resembles small yellow beads and, when cooked, has the texture of caviar. Amaranth has a higher protein content than other whole grains (13-14%!) and is the only known grain to contain vitamin C. Try it as a savory side dish with hearty mushrooms, as a warm, sweet breakfast porridge or as part of an on-the-go breakfast bar.

B is for Brown Rice

Brown rice is pretty common in grocery stores these days, and for good reason. It has higher levels of vitamins and fiber than white rice and has a pleasant, slightly nutty flavor. Don’t be intimidated about cooking rice – there are plenty of par-boil and instant varieties on the shelf. Ask for brown rice next time you are dining out at an Asian restaurant, or use it as a base under your next batch of chili.  You can also swap your kid’s bagel for a brown rice cake with low fat cream cheese, honey and raisins. Check out 50 healthy snack recipes for kids, If you are concerned about arsenic in rice, try to limit your weekly consumption to 1 ½ to 2 cups. Rinse the rice thoroughly before cooking, boil with extra water, and drain when cooking is complete.

C is for Corn

Corn is making a comeback with the rise of gluten sensitivities. Don’t be confused: fresh corn is a vegetable, but dried corn is a grain. Corn is the most widely grown crop in the world and is so versatile. Latin American cultures make tortillas from it, Italian cultures grind it into creamy polenta, and it is the central ingredient in many American muffin, chowder, and bread recipes. Frozen corn is a great substitute for fresh in the cooler months and popcorn (no butter, no salt) is a fun, healthy afternoon snack for kids and adults. Check out Popcorn Croutons for a great new spin on the traditional salad topper or 10 ways to enjoy popcorn. Choose organic corn and organic corn products if you want to be GMO-free.

Remember that whole grains are more than just choosing a different kind of sliced bread. There are lots of whole grains out there to explore with your family. Try some creamy polenta instead of mashed potatoes or fluff up some brown rice with your next pot of beans. Whole grains provide benefits now by improving your digestion and in the future by lowering your risk of chronic diseases. Remember the ABCs of whole grains and your body will thank you.

Q&A:

1. Name the ABCs of whole grains:

  •             A = amaranth
  •             B = brown rice
  •             C = corn

2. Name two health benefits of whole grains:

  • Lowers risk of heart disease
  • Lowers risk of obesity

3. True or False: brown rice MORE processed than white rice

Catherine Staffieri has her MS in Nutrition Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and is currently completing her dietetic internship with them.  She is passionate about healthy cooking for kids and families. She lives in Greenwich CT with her husband and young son. 



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