Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How to add whole grains to your day (instead of “enriched” flour)

Appraising Your Success

The end of the week is a good time to review the past week of your SWEET Life and count up your accomplishments. Your goal is 5-6 times per week for each aspect of the SWEET Life: Sleep, Water, Eating, Exercise, and Tranquility. If you didn’t achieve some of your goals for the week, then next week, focus on those areas more and think about how to fulfill them more consistently.

How do you feel at the end of this week? Are you better rested? Do you feel relaxed? Are you more energetic? Do you feel generally healthier? Continue with the SWEET Life and you’ll experience all of these feelings!

Topic of the week -- How to add whole grains to your day (instead of “enriched” flour)

Whole grains are a new trend, which is both good and bad. It’s good because it’s easier to find more whole grain products than just a few years ago. It’s bad because everyone wants to jump on the whole grain bandwagon, whether or not their products are really made from whole grains. As much as we all hate reading the ingredients, it’s important to read the list. The good thing is that whole grain should be the first ingredient, so you don’t have to read any farther than that. If whole grain is not the first ingredient, then just imagine that your product is made from white, enriched flour, with a touch of whole grain thrown in so that it can be marketed as whole grain.

So what’s the big deal about whole grains? A little history: over a hundred years ago, millers figured out how to separate the three parts of a grain: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. The bran is the outer shell, which contains the fiber. The endosperm is the middle part, which contains the starch. The germ is the inner part, which contains most of the vitamins and minerals. Using only the endosperm produces beautiful, “refined,” white flour, which makes great pastries and lovely white breads, compared to the dark, heavy, dense breads produced by using the whole grain. In the early 20th century, there were a lot of diseases related to malnutrition, so bakers added vitamins to “enrich” their beautiful, white flour in order to make up for those vitamins that were pulled out when “refining” the grain. By the 1940’s the FDA required flour to be “enriched” with specific vitamins. However, stripping out and adding in vitamins and minerals is not as good as simply using the whole grain from the start.

From a health standpoint, the insoluble fiber in whole grains helps with the digestive process from the intestines on down and out the back door. The soluble fiber in whole grains helps you feel fuller because it slows the digestive process. It also reduces insulin levels, improves “good” HDL cholesterol, and decreases “bad” LDL cholesterol. Eating whole grains also reduces your risk of getting heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, and stroke.

Now that you know how healthy you’ll be, here are some examples of whole grains: Wheat & wheat flour, oats & oatmeal, corn & corn meal, popcorn, rice, couscous, barley, spelt, quinoa, bulgur, millet, buckwheat, rye, amaranth, sorghum, and triticale.

That’s a long list, but how can we incorporate them into our meals? Here are some suggestions:
First of all, write “whole grain” before each grain product on your grocery shopping list. Secondly, be willing to try some grains you’ve never eaten before. Check the package’s cooking directions because some of them take a long time to cook. I tried quinoa because it’s as easy to make as rice (in the rice cooker), and now my kids love the squishy/crunchy texture.

Breakfast: whole grain cereal, bread, bagels, muffins, muesli, pancakes or waffles

Lunch: your usual sandwich on whole grain bread. Try whole grain rye for a change.

Snacks: whole grain crackers or goldfish

Dinner: Whole grain pasta, tortillas, bread, rolls or buns. Trader Joe’s has a whole grain pizza dough that’s easy to prepare, and a delicious Brown Rice Medley. I recently tried whole wheat bagels instead of hamburger buns, and the bagel was better than a bun because of its firmer texture and nutty wheat flavor.

When buying grain products, there’s, unfortunately, the Costco factor: At this point, Costco has few whole grain products, but they have huge quantities of grain products that we all use for very low prices. That creates a dilemma: should I buy a 6-pack of 1-lb packages of pasta for $6 at Costco, or should I buy a few packages of whole grain pasta at the grocery store for $1.50 each? I find myself stuck in this dilemma all the time, so I try to think of the nutrition per dollar, rather than the quantity per dollar. The whole grain pasta gives you a lot more nutrition than regular pasta, and you can find it on sale for $.99, so focus on nutrition and stock up on whole grains, especially when they are on sale.

In conclusion, try to buy whole grain products every time you purchase any grain products and check the label for the first ingredient to be “whole grain.”


Have a SWEET week!


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