Glorious Grains

I don’t know about you, but I sure have been seeing a lot of anti-grain diets going around lately! Unfortunately, grains are our major source of complex carbohydrates and provide A LOT of necessary and healthful nutrition that it would be a shame for people to miss out on. Not only are grains a carbohydrate (one of the three basic components of food) but are the most commonly consumed foods worldwide and some of the oldest foods there are.

Grains are a vital human fuel and, since whole grains are complex carbohydrates they are slower burning and provide our bodies with sustained energy. And there is more! They are a great source of starch and fiber and provide healthful amounts of B vitamins (energy nutrients), vitamin E, and many different minerals. Oh glorious grains! In this post I’ll be discussing why there are so many diets out there currently with low-carb, no-carb, and anti-carb sentiments as well as even more reasons to be grateful for grains in your life.

When I talk to a lot of people about what they currently eat there is a lot of “but I don’t eat bread”. Bread, and grains in general, have gotten a bad name. This is mostly due to Western cultures massive use of refined grains and the contribution these have had to nutrition and health. Refined grains are made from breaking down the whole grains into finer grains and flour that are then made into breads, pasta, crackers, cookies, and a lot of convenience products. 

The disadvantage to eating a lot of refined grain products is that there is a major loss of nutrients during processing such as the B vitamins, vitamin E, and a lot of minerals that are still intact for whole grains. Protein levels are also decreased but starch and carbohydrate levels stay the same.

Due to a law that requires enrichment of refined products, a lot of these nutrients are added back in but not all, and fiber is much much less than whole grains. Without fiber (my favorite!) and those other nutrients, refined grains cause our blood sugars to increase quicker and us not to feel full as fast or for as long. This can cause increased calorie consumption and increased risk of conditions such as diabetes as well as unwanted weight gain. Low-fiber diets also have a high correlation with many chronic and serious diseases. 

But this should not scare you away from grains! The focus ought to be moved away from no-grain, low carbohydrate diets, but instead focusing on correct portion sizes of quality, whole grain, complex carbohydrates that provide us the extremely important fuel, fiber, and micronutrients we need to live vibrantly throughout the day. Plus, they taste so good!

Now, onto the grains! The top three grains that represent the world’s food supply is wheat, rice, and corn. My favorites, and ones that are very versatile and easy to use (and provide a decent amount of protein), are quinoa and oats. Here is a little more info about those two and the recipe of the dish pictured above:

  • Quinoa: This grain, although ‘new’ to the United States, is ancient to those in Central America. Although it is classified as a grain it is actually more closely related to beets and green leafy vegetables. This is such a versatile grain it can be used in soups, side dishes, desserts, and of course as a main dish. It has a decent amount of protein (8 g/one cup cooked) and has a nice balance of all the essential amino acids, win win win! 

            To cook quinoa: Rinse thoroughly with water and cook 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid (water or broth). Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover for about 20 minutes. In the dish pictured above I mixed the cooked quinoa with some olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, kalamata olives, red onion, canned artichokes, fresh cilantro, and topped it off with a bit of salt. Cooked quinoa can be mixed with any combination of oil, vegetable, and herbs and come out great!

  • Oats: Traditionally, oats have been used as a breakfast cereal for oatmeal, porridge and granola. They are a soft grain and their processing method (rolled) make it retain a lot more nutrition then other processing methods. Oatmeal is a wonderful breakfast choice that has a high amount of complex carbohydrates making you feel sustained throughout the morning. It can also be toasted and turned into granola and goes well either savory or as a sweet treat. Oats are also 10-15% protein and are a great source of fiber and B vitamins. They are also being studied to improve heart health. Oatmeal and oats are widely available so don’t forget these when you are thinking up some meal ideas! 

**Portion sizes: this is an important thing to keep in mind when eating grains! Too large portion sizes is another reason grains get a lot of grief so keep this in mind when adding them to your meals. A serving size is 1 slice of bread and 1/2 cup of cooked (half size of your clenched fist) rice, pasta, cereal, and other grains. Keep serving sizes within range and there should be no reason not to add some nutritionally valuable grains to your diet!