For many of us, the new year brings resolutions to eat healthier. Some of us will start diets, some will begin reading labels and some will just want to make a change or two for healthier eating options.
A real simple change is to include more whole grains in our diets. Grains are items such as wheat, rice, oats and cornmeal. They can be whole or refined. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel — the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains — which have had much of the nutrient value processed out of them — are white flour, white rice, etc. They are often referred to as “white” food.
Why should you care about eating whole grains? Whole grains are proven to help prevent diseases, from cancer to cardiovascular disease. They are also known to keep your weight down by making you feel full longer.
Most whole grains are low on the glycemic index, which is important, especially for diabetics. The glycemic index measures the effect of carbohydrates on your blood sugar. The lower the number, the better a food is for you. For example, white bread (made with refined flour) has a much higher number on the glycemic index than does whole grain bread.
Over the years, I found that switching to whole grains was much easier than I thought. For example, I like to use brown rice rather than white rice. It takes a little longer to cook, but I like the taste and texture so much more than white rice.
I also love quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). While it is not really a whole grain (it’s a berry), it is viewed as the “perfect” food since it contains protein as well as fiber. I use it as a substitute for rice or couscous. It is readily available in your grocery store, and you know it has become mainstream because I have purchased it in warehouse club stores.
Whole grain pastas are readily available in your grocery store as well. Some brands are better than others, so it may take a few tries to find the brand you love.
So how do you know that the product you are buying contains whole grains? Check the ingredient list for the words “whole grain” or “whole wheat.” The packaging may also contain a yellow stamp, making it easier to identify a whole grain product. Do not be fooled by a product name, such as “9-grain.” Look at the nutritional label; it will truly identify whether the product is whole grain or not.
Common whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, barley and popcorn, are usually available in your grocery store. Others, such as amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur, kamut, millet, quinoa and spelt, are often found at health food stores (Sprouts, Whole Foods Market), or surprisingly enough, at Asian markets.
If you are not sure how to cook some of these whole grains, look for recipes online. The Whole Foods website has some great recipes using whole grains. Your local library may also have cookbooks to help you get started.
Adding whole grains is a simple way to get on track for the new year and, even better, you do not have to give anything up to enjoy them.
• Judy A. Toth is the owner of Simply Impressive Cooking School in Mesa. Her column appears the second Wednesday of the month. Reach her at (480) 654-1981 or www.SimplyImpressive.com