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    Archive for the ‘whole grains’ Category

    American Heart Association – Selling Out Health to the Highest Bidder

    When it comes to heart health, there are specific nutrients to encourage (monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber — both soluble and insoluble) and limit (sodium, added sugar, trans fats, oils high in omega-6 fatty acids [corn, cottonseed, soybean], and refined grains).

    It has also been well established in the scientific literature that certain phytonutrients — naturally occurring substances in plant foods that confer their own health benefits —  offer cardiovascular protection.  Some examples include quercetin (in apple skins, red onion, and broccoli), ellagic acid (in strawberries and grapes), and lignans (in flax seed, sesame seeds, and barley).

    Alas, most of the products in your local supermarket that feature the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval (officially known as the “heart-check mark”), don’t prioritize heart-healthy nutrients and compounds.  In fact, they condone foods high in nutrients that are damaging to our cardiovascular health.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Bread Without Added Junk?

    I’ve been thinking about baking my own whole wheat bread instead of buying chemicals at the store.  I was so disappointed to see how much crap is in Sara Lee breads.

    Ideally, is homemade bread better than commercial ones?

    — Jason Kehl
    Via Twitter

    Is homemade bread a healthier or more nutritious option?  It depends on a variety of factors.

    Are you using organic or conventional flour to bake your bread?  Refined or whole grain?  How much salt are you adding?

    While it is true that a lot of commercial breads are the end result of ingredient lists littered with soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, and added coloring, that is not always the case.

    Here are bread companies I like because of their simple approach.  I have linked to their websites so you can see retail information or order their products online.  Please note that this is not a definitive list.  I am sure there are many small, local bakeries that provide breads with the same characteristics as the ones listed below.

    Also, this list is updated as I find new bread brands worthy of this post!

    • Dave’s Killer Bread (added August 21, 2010): Although the sugar content is a little high, it has many redeeming qualities that still make it a standout.  The spelt variety offers the least amount of sugar, by the way.
    • Food For Life: These breads are made from sprouted grains, which makes their minerals more bioavailable.  Bonus: 0 grams of sugar.
    • Manna Organics: “Manna bread” is a high-fiber, sprouted grain bread free of added sodium, added sugar, and yeast.  I often enjoy a thick slice topped with almond butter in the morning.
    • Silver Hills (added August 21, 2010): Sprouted-grain breads, minimal amounts of added sugar (a mere gram per slice), and wonderful texture.  Wonderful sandwich bread.
    • Vermont Bread Company: Their whole wheat bread has a lovely ingredient list
    • When Pigs Fly: Delicious and mega wholesome!

    If your local supermarkets and food stores do not carry any of these brands, look for breads with the following characteristics.  The more of these bullet points they offer, the better!

    • Whole grain flour to be the first ingredient
    • Whole grain flour to be the only flour throughout the entire ingredient list
    • Whole grain flours that are organic
    • No more than 2 grams of sugar per slice
    • At least 3 grams of fiber per slice
    • No more than 200 milligrams of sodium per slice
    • A simple ingredient list (ie: Whole wheat flour, water, salt, yeast, honey)
    • For maximum mineral absorption, look for sprouted grains

    If you choose to go ahead and make your own bread at home, keep these parameters in mind.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Gardein

    crispy_tenders_295x35052I want to get your thoughts on Gardein, a faux chicken brand gaining popularity.

    The products taste good, but what do you think of them?  Healthy or overly processed?

    — Bev (Last name unknown)
    (Location Unknown)

    Gardein — short for “garden protein” — is the latest vegan chicken and beef alternative, available in refrigerated and frozen varieties.

    It is essentially a mixture of soy protein isolate, vital wheat gluten (AKA seitan), and, in most products, a melange of whole grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet, and kamut).

    I have tasted a few varieties.  The buffalo wings were overpowered by the accompanying mouth-burning spicy marinade, but I thought the seven-grain crispy tenders offered both a pleasant texture and flavor.

    Gardein falls into the “eat occasionally” category for me, though, mainly because most of the products offer quite a bit of sodium per serving (some of the serving sizes, as with the crispy tenders, can be laughably small).

    I am also slightly concerned that part of these products’ fiber content comes from isolated fibers rather than solely whole grains.  And, while highly- processed soy protein isolate is not the sole source of protein, it is one of the most prominent ingredients.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Amaranth

    Amaranth Grain crop 001A few days ago on Twitter you recommended we give alternative grains like amaranth a try.

    Can you tell me more about it?  How can it be prepared?

    — Will Reicks
    (Location withheld)

    Although amaranth can be eaten as a savory side dish, I prefer it as an alternative to oatmeal, especially since it has a porridge-like texture.

    I enjoy it topped with sliced bananas, chopped pecans, goji berries, and cacao nibs.

    Like quinoa and wild rice, amaranth falls into the “pseudo-grain” category, since it is technically a seed.

    Not only is it a completely safe food for those with gluten intolerances and wheat allergies — it also boasts a powerful nutritional profile.  One cup of cooked amaranth delivers:

    • 251 calories
    • 5 grams of fiber
    • 9 grams protein

    It is also an excellent source of iron, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus, and delivers substantial amounts of calcium, copper, folate, selenium, vitamin B6, and zinc.

    Added bonus?  Amaranth contains exclusive phytonutrients that help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol as well as a powerful group of antioxidants called betalains that help reduce cellular inflammation and, consequently, the risk of different cancers.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Barley

    whole_barleyCan you tell me about the health benefits of barley?

    I just added some to my kale stew and really liked it, but I don’t know anything about it.

    — Susy (last name unknown)
    (Location unknown)

    Barley is a wonderful grain!

    You should know that there are two different varieties — hulled barley and pearled barley.

    Pearled barley is the most commonly consumed type.  While it is still nutritious, it is slightly more processed than hulled barley in that it loses its bran layer.

    Consequently, pearled barley cooks faster.

    If you can find hulled barley, I recommend you purchase that.

    However, even pearled barley is far superior to refined grains like white rice, couscous, or pastas made from white flours.

    After all, one cup of it (cooked) provides:

    • 6 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein
    • 10% of a day’s worth of niacin, vitamin B6, and zinc
    • 20% of a day’s worth of manganese and selenium

    Meanwhile, one cup of cooked hulled barley adds up to:

    • 8 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein
    • Higher amounts of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and selenium

    One of the advantages of barley is that a significant percentage of its fibers are beta-glucans.

    Beta-glucans are a specific type of soluble fiber — also found in oatmeal, seaweed, and mushrooms — responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol (the higher your LDL cholesterol, the higher your risk for heart disease).

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    ButtermilkWhiteBreadHelperNinety-five percent of bread products available at public school cafeterias across the country are of the refined “white flour” variety, offering negligible amounts of fiber and fewer nutrients than whole grain types.

    (Source: 2004 – 2005 United States Department of Agriculture School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study)

    This pitiful statistic goes back to issues surrounding federal national lunch guidelines and agricultural subsidies.

    According to figures from the School Nutrition Association, school cafeterias receive $2.65 dollars, per student, from the government, for a complete lunch.  Mind you, this amount includes expenses like cafeteria workers’ salaries.

    Whole grain options (the few that are available from vendors) cost five or ten additional cents per student, so you can understand why schools are not exactly itching to get more of these healthy foods into their lunch rooms.

    I firmly believe the government needs to provide incentives for schools to serve as many grains as possible in their whole, more nutritious form.

    A few school districts currently require a certain amount of whole grains on the menu, but that is a completely voluntary move.

    Of course, this requirement should be met in the simplest of terms (ie: whole grain tortillas and sliced bread to make wraps and sandwiches, whole grain dinner rolls to accompany entrees, lightly-salted air-popped popcorn as a snack, etc.) as opposed to a sodium-loaded slice of pizza with processed cheese on a semi whole-wheat crust.

    Allow me to clarify — the occasional refined grain product is no cause for concern.  A diet does not need to be 100% whole grain to be healthy.

    However, in a country where children, on average, get only half of their daily fiber recommendations, it is necessary to examine how improvements can be made.

    The guarantee of a 100% whole grain lunch at school is a significant start.

    PS: The New York Coalition for Healthy School Lunch has made tremendous strides in several of that city’s public schools.  Check out their website for more information, particularly the “creating change in your school” page.

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    Numbers Game: When ‘Refined’ Isn’t a Compliment

    White-Bread____ percent of bread products available at public school cafeterias across the country are of the refined “white flour” variety, offering negligible amounts of fiber and fewer nutrients than whole grain types.

    (Source: United States Department of Agriculture School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study)

    a) 58
    b) 95
    c) 79
    d) 82

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Monday for the answer.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Brown-RiceA review of  major heart health studies published in the Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases journal found that people who consume at least 2.5 servings of whole grains a day have a 21 percent lower risk of developing a cardiovascular disease than those who eat two (or less) servings of whole grains a week.

    This figure takes into account other dietary changes, so it goes beyond the idea that individuals who eat higher amounts of  whole grains have healthier overall diets.

    Keep in mind that grain servings are quite small — a mere half cup of cooked brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and  oatmeal all count.

    The idea here is to replace as many of the refined grain products in your diet (white rice, white bread, etc.) with whole grain ones, not simply add whole grain foods to your current diet.

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    Numbers Game: Hearty Whole Grains

    MF-M26826A review of  major heart health studies published in the Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases journal found that people who consume at least 2.5 servings of whole grains a day have a _____ percent lower risk of developing a cardiovascular disease than those who eat two (or less) servings of whole grains a week.

    a) 12
    b) 30
    c) 5
    d) 21

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    You Ask, I Answer: Oat and Spelt Flour

    gfd_creamhillestates_oatfloAre oat and spelt flours whole grain?

    I have celiac disease, so I am looking for ways to make whole grain baked goods without using whole wheat flour.

    — Christine Adler
    (City withheld), DE

    As with wheat flour, these flours are only whole grain if the word “whole” or “whole grain” appears on their packaging (or the ingredient list of a food product).  Never assume!

    I am slightly confused by your question, though, since spelt is a form of wheat and certainly NOT gluten-free!

    As far as whole oat flour goes — you can make it at home by grinding unflavored and unsweetened quick-cooking rolled oats (which are, by virtue, 100% whole grain) in a food processor.

    One word of caution: although oats are gluten-free, many of them are processed in facilities that also handle wheat.  Consequently, cross-contamination is very common.

    Fortunately, companies like Gluten Free Oats provide oat products that are certified as gluten-free.

    Keep in mind that oat flour by itself will not result in appealing baked goods.

    Gluten-free baking is all about combinations of flours — especially quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, and almond meal — as well as the addition of thickeners like xantham gum and guar gum (both of which can be purchased at health food stores).

    It is encouraging to see the rise in production and availability of gluten-free all-purpose flours, too.

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    Quick & Healthy Recipes: Cinnamon-Walnut Whole Grain Muffins

    cinnamonThis past weekend I craved muffins to go along with my recently-purchased hazelnut-roasted coffee.

    Instead of treking down to a local bakery for a gigantic 500-calorie bomb, I decided to make my own.

    Apart from pairing up perfectly with a hot cup of coffee on a brisk autumn day, these muffins are 100% whole grain, vegan, and chock full of omega-3 fatty acids.

    See how you like them!

    YIELDS: 18 mini muffins

    INGREDIENTS:
    2 cups whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour or whole wheat white flour)
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 Tablespoons ground flaxseed
    1/3 cup chopped walnuts
    1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
    4 Tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
    1 Tablespoon coconut oil
    1/2 Tablespoon canola oil
    (NOTE: You could omit the coconut oil and instead add an additional tablespoon of canola oil)
    1/4 cup agave nectar, brown rice syrup, or maple syrup
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1 cup water

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    Place all dry ingredients (from whole wheat flour to cinnamon) in one bowl.

    In another bowl, mix together all wet ingredients (from applesauce to water).

    Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients bowl.

    Mix together lightly, making sure not to overmix.

    Scoop mixed batter into muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit

    OPTIONAL (but recommended): Once out of the oven, sprinkle additional cinnamon on top of muffins.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (for 2 mini muffins, with coconut oil):

    184 calories
    2.5 grams saturated fat (if using only canola oil: 0.5 grams saturated fat)
    320 milligrams sodium
    4.4 grams fiber
    7.2 grams added sugar
    4.5 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Manganese, selenium

    Good Source of: Alpha Linolenic Omega-3 Fatty Acids, copper, magnesium, phosphorus

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    You Ask, I Answer: Corn Processed with Lime

    tacoshell

    When the ingredients on taco shells says corn processed with lime is it considered a whole grain or not?

    — Peggy Martin
    (Location Withheld)

    While popcorn is a whole grain, not all corn flours are.

    If the ingredient list does not specifically mention the presence of “whole grain corn”, you are not looking at a whole grain product.

    Corn is actually processed with lime to boost its calcium levels.

    Since lime-cooked corn contains lower levels of phytic acid than conventionally-cooked varieties, its calcium is much more absorbable. it also makes its iron much more absorbable.

    These discoveries came to light when nutrition researchers couldn’t explain why certain populations of native Mexicans did not have low iron blood levels despite a diet high in corn.

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    Quick & Health(ier) Recipe: Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Muffins

    img71mSince I am leaving the country for a few weeks on Sunday, I am trying to use up every ingredient in my pantry and refrigerator — like whole wheat flour and soy milk — that will otherwise spoil while I am away.

    This “no frills” muffin recipe (which can be vegan or not, depending on your preference) was the end result.  A friend of mine stopped by later in the evening, and, upon trying them, said I “have to put these on the blog!”

    I personally love them because they are a great way to satisfy a craving for baked goods without overloading on calories and sugar.  The fact that they are 100% whole grain doesn’t hurt, either!

    YIELDS: 12 mini muffins (in 24-muffin pan, as shown in accompanying photograph)

    INGREDIENTS:

    1 cup whole wheat flour
    2 Tablespoons wheat germ (optional)
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
    2 teaspoons vanilla powder (or vanilla extract)
    2 Tablespoons dark chocolate chips (if vegan, use carob chips or vegan chocolate chips)
    1 “flax egg”* (or 1 egg)
    1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk (or any other milk of your choice)
    3/4 tablespoon coconut oil
    1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
    2 teaspoons sugar (or honey or agave nectar or maple syrup)

    *NOTE: a “flax egg” is made by mixing two tablespoons of water with one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds.

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Place all dry ingredients (from whole wheat flour to chocolate chips) in one bowl.  In another bowl, place all wet ingredients (from “flax egg” or real egg to sugar).  If using vanilla powder, place with dry ingredients.  Vanilla extract should go in “wet ingredients” bowl.

    Add dry ingredients to wet ingredient bowl and slowly fold together.  Be sure to not overmix, as this will result in tough muffins you could bounce off the floor.

    Lightly spray muffin pan with baking spray (to prevent the batter from sticking).

    Fill muffin cups evenly with batter.

    Bake for 20 minutes in oven, or until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean.

    NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION (for 2 mini muffins made with soy milk and “flax egg”):

    155 calories
    1 gram saturated fat
    150 milligrams sodium
    4 grams fiber
    4 grams added sugar
    4 grams protein

    Excellent source of: Manganese, selenium

    Good source of: Folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B6

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    Two Healthy and Tasty Pantry Must-Haves!

    748404287930Considering the nutritional horrors that are often consumed due to time constraints, I am always eager to share products I personally come across — and try out for myself — that make it possible to whip up tasty and healthy food in minutes.

    First up– Seeds of Change’s microwaveable rice pouches.

    Four of the six varieties are 100% whole grain:

    It gets better.  All varieties are already seasoned with organic spices and a variety of organic vegetables (not vegetable powders — REAL vegetables!).

    While many boxed and seasoned grain products contain ridiculous amounts of sodium (as much as 600 or 700 milligrams per serving), Seeds of Change gets brownie points for offering, at most, 380 milligrams per serving (the average sodium content of these four products is an outstanding 268 milligrams per serving).

    Each of these pouches also offers, on average, 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein.

    Next up — Tasty Bite’s Simmer Sauces.

    Need to quickly and effortlessly dress up beef, chicken, seafood, tofu, tempeh, seitan, or some stir-fried vegetables?  Look no further.

    These sauces use real food — as opposed to flavored chemicals — and a variety of spices to liven up your dish of choice.

    Consequently, each serving contains no more than a practically non-existent 45 milligrams of sodium (Two-thumbs-up-FYI: a serving is half the pouch, not a quarter of a teaspoon!).

    Even varieties like the pad-thai simmer sauce, which packs in several teaspoons of sugar, are fine if you are using half a pouch for a meal that serves three or four people.

    Go ahead and add these to your “I want something healthy and delicious… and I want it NOW” shelf.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Cassava Flour

    test1.57I have a recipe that calls for cassava flour.  Is it more nutritious than wheat flour?

    Also, is the flour considered a grain even though cassava is a root vegetable?

    If so, is it a whole grain?

    — Maria (last name withheld)
    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    From a nutritional standpoint, flours made from vegetables (such as cassava) are not considered grains.

    Grains offer B vitamins, fiber, magnesium, and selenium.  At its best, cassava flour — also known as tapioca flour — offers trace amounts of those nutrients.

    It is also extremely low in protein (which is why individuals in extremely poor developing nations who mainly subsist on cassava develop protein malnutrition).

    Cassava flour comes in very handy, though, as a thickener when creating gluten-free baked goods.

    Keep in mind, too, that the Food & Drug Administration created an official definition for whole grains in 2006, which states that whole grains must contain the three components found in grains (bran, endosperm and the germ) in the same relative proportion as they exist in nature.

    As a root vegetable, cassava does not offer those three components.

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