Whole Grains: They're Healthy, Trendy, Tasty and Diverse

Are you old enough to remember when whole grains were relegated to health food stores and only diehards were eating them?

Those days are over.

With so much variety, along with a wealth of new and exciting recipes, an abundance of nutritional benefits and plenty of flavor and texture, all kinds of whole grains have come out of hiding and gone mainstream in recent years. The farrow salad with nectarines is a mainstay at the downtown vegetarian restaurant Mother. Wicked West Pizza in West Sacramento uses whole wheat flour in its dough. Chipotle has a brown rice option, as do many Thai restaurants these days.

And all kinds of eateries are finding ways to introduce quinoa, couscous, millet, spelt, amaranth, wheat berries and more into salads, stews and side dishes.

With good reason. You already know about the high fiber content that eases the digestive process. But it may surprise you to learn that many whole grains are also excellent sources of protein and have a nutrient profile that can make them an all-star in your culinary lineup. For a rundown on whole grain nutrition, check out the website www.wholegrainscouncil.org.

That doesn’t mean whole grains have to be a sacrifice when it comes to flavor. As restaurants are finding, there are simply so many ways to enjoy them. They can be the centerpiece of a meal, play a supporting role or add a creative component to a side dish. You can tuck them into a salad or sneak them into a dessert in place of more common but less nutritious processed grains like white wheat flour.

The newly published cookbook “Moosewood Restaurant Favorites,” for instance, suggests serving its hearty Moroccan vegetable stew over a bed of couscous. That’s a quick and easy way to add flavor, texture, fiber and a dose of nutrients to an already healthy and delicious dish.

For the accompanying recipes with this story, we referenced an excellent book, “Grain Power” (Pintail, 240 pages, 2014) by Patrica Green and Carolyn Hemming. (On Twitter they’re @QuinoaQueens, which says plenty about their commitment to ancient grains.)

I’ve had something of a quinoa reawakening of my own. Using an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker, I can make quinoa in one minute under pressure with no fuss or need to watch over the pot. Other, heartier whole grains like wheat berries and pearled barley take longer, but they require little to no cooking prowess. If you’re looking to up your whole grains repertoire, I highly recommend getting an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker, which also can be used as a rice cooker and slow cooker.

In “Grain Power,” the authors talk about whole grains, or ancient grains, and, as the name suggests, explain that they have been used as sustenance going back centuries. Some of the ingredients we think of as whole grains are not, it turns out, actual grains but seeds. Quinoa is one of them. If you’re trying to build up your pantry with grains, you can find almost any grain in the bulk bins at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. Mainstream grocery stores are now carrying more grain variety, too, often in small bags from Bob’s Red Mill or in bulk bins of their own.

The authors write: “Healthfulness and superfood properties are huge benefits, and ancient grains also provide unique textures and flavors that add a whole new dimension to many meals that you’re already eating. The ease of cooking and the versatility of ancient grains means you can easily incorporate them into your existing meals.”

Several once-obscure grains and seeds have now become household names. Take chia, which burst into mainstream consciousness several years ago with the publication of “Born To Run,” about the athletic exploits of Mexico’s Tarahumara people. Not only did the book help trigger the barefoot or minimalist shoe boom, it sent many people to health food stores looking for chia, those tiny black seeds that resemble poppy seeds but are loaded with protein, fiber and healthy carbs. They also have an abundance of antioxidants and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Quinoa, of course, has also grown in popularity, based on its reputation as a so-called superfood. With its pleasing mild nutty flavor, light and fluffy texture when cooked and its high quality protein, fiber and other nutrients, quinoa is a grain we all should try sneaking into more and more dishes, especially salads.

In the new book “How Not To Die,” Dr. Michael Greger recommends three servings of whole grains daily. According to the book, an analysis of two major studies “found that people who eat more whole grains tend to live significantly longer lives independent of other dietary and lifestyle factors. No surprise, given that whole grains appear to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and stroke. Eating whole grains could save the lives of more than a million people around the world every year.”

Greger’s favorite sources of whole grains are barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, popcorn, quinoa, rye, teff, whole wheat pasta and wild rice.

When you look at the health benefits and the prospects of significantly prolonging life, it may seem like whole grains are something of a culinary sacrifice. But that’s not the case. What’s exciting about the recipes in “Grain Power,” including the three listed below, and a growing library of other grain-centric recipes, is that these ancient grains are finding new relevance in an array of breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes that are both healthful and delicious.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/food-drink/recipes/article101448692.html#storylink=cp