Grains are celebrated all over the world for their hearty taste and are staples in a variety of cultures.
Rice is a mainstay in Asia, quinoa has been consumed in Peru for centuries, and farro was fed to Egyptian kings.
health benefits of whole grains
Whole grains contain phytochemicals and essential minerals such as magnesium, selenium, and copper. Grains are high in dietary fiber which helps reduce cholesterol and contributes to gastrointestinal health.
Consumption of whole grains is associated with reduced risk of type two diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even strokes. Interested yet?
Whole grains are composed of three main parts – the bran, endosperm, and germ.
The bran is the hard outermost layer of the grain that is rich in dietary fiber. It acts as a protective barrier for the endosperm and germ. It contains antioxidants, protein, and B vitamins. It also has trace amounts of iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, and phytochemicals found in the bran. One negative antinutrient found in the outer bran is phytic acid. Phytic acid can prevent our bodies from absorbing some of the nutritional properties of whole grains. This is why I soak and sprout my whole grains before cooking them (more on that later).
The middle layer of the grain is the starchy endosperm which holds the nutrient-rich germ. The endosperm is what most processed flours are made of.
Inside the endosperm, you have the germ or “seed”. The germ gives the grain the ability to sprout and become a plant.
I always advocate whole foods. Avocado over avocado oil, potatoes over french fries, you get where I’m going with this…
Brown rice is a whole grain. It contains the bran, germ, and endosperm (more of this science stuff below).
White rice, however, has the fibrous bran and the nutrient dense germ removed.
As a result, white rice contains less fiber and fewer nutrients than brown rice. One cup of brown rice contains 14% of the DV of fiber whereas white rice only contains three.
case study / brown vs white rice
Refined grains undergo a milling process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to prolong the shelf life of grains and to create a finer texture. Essentially processing the whole grain into a flour.
In the 1930’s food scientists realized that processes of creating refined grains stripped the whole grains of there nutritional properties. Along with greatly reducing the amount of dietary fiber. Because of the lack of nutrients in refined grain, a fortification process had to take place to enrich the processed powder with vitamins and minerals that were present prior to processing. Essentially the whole grain has been milled and processed to the point that is contained little to no nutrients. The World Health Organization describes enrichment as “synonymous with fortification and refers to the addition of micronutrients to a food which is lost during processing.”
Refined grains = processed grains with nutrients removed, then fortified back into the flour before being used to make some of your favorite junky shelf-stable products.
A list of whole grains
how to buy whole grains
Whenever I’m buying whole grains I tend to gravitate towards bulk bins. They offer a far better bang for your buck. You don’t have to stick to Whole Foods to find whole grains. Several grocery chains and even independent stores will have several varieties to test out.
As with trying anything new, start slow, and build your grain collection up over time. Couscous is one of the fastest cooking grains and is a great first go at grains. Farro and quinoa also cook quick. Pick one and try it out.
Grains are not resistant to mold, and if they are exposed to moisture, this will allow the germination process to begin. Make sure the grains are dry and there isn’t discoloration (especially black or green) which could indicate mold.
Once you have those little guys back in the kitchen store them in a cool dry place. I love to put mine in clear glass containers. Easy access and a good visual reminder they need to be eaten.
guide to buying bread
Of course, it would be nice if we all had time to make bread by hand from home. But most of the time, we head to the stores when we need a loaf of bread.
Once inside said grocery store you can find a wall of bread that stretches across an entire shopping aisle. Each loaf designed with clever product packaging to entice us to buy their seemingly healthy products.
The only way to tell what is in a loaf of bread is by looking at the food label. There are four main things I always check: the ingredient list, how much fiber per slice, and the amount of added sugar and salt.
Any loaf of bread that has less than two grams of fiber per slice is not worth my time. On the flip side, if there are more than two grams of sugar or salt per slice, that’s too much. For fiber, sugar, and salt just remember the two-gram rule.
The ingredient list is a bit more tricky. You already know to watch out for extra sugar and salt. But sneaky ingredients such as caramel coloring can be added to darken the appearance and make it look healthier to the consumer. Don’t be fooled, go straight to the ingredient list.
The first ingredient should have the word “whole” in it. Anything starting with enriched, bleached, or unbleached could be code for refined white flour. Even words like multi-grain, cracked wheat or wheat do not guarantee that your loaf was made with whole grains. The only way you can ensure your bread was made with the bran, germ, and endosperm is to look for the word “whole” followed by whatever grain or flour was used.
If you see the word “sprouted” in the ingredient list you’ve leveled up with that loaf. Sprouted grains are slightly higher in protein, nutrients, and are generally easier to digest.
There are a few main components you need to make bread, flour, yeast, sugar, and some salt. However, you don’t need extra doses of high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. If you see an excessively long ingredient list with a lot of words you can’t pronounce I would put that sucker back on the shelf.
Gluten-free products have obviously picked up in popularity. Since “gluten-free” is such a selling point, if a product is gluten-free, it’s usually plastered somewhere evident on the packaging.
The term “gluten-free” is regulated and protected by the FDA. If you see those two words anywhere on the product packaging in the United States you can rest assured there is no gluten in that food product.
A second way to ensure your product is gluten free is to check the allergen statement. You can find the allergen statement below the ingredient list on the back of product packaging. If the allergen statement contains wheat, then you, my friend, have found yourself some gluten. If you want to learn more about gluten-free labeling read the full gluten-free FDA guidelines for product packaging.
a note on oats
All oats are naturally gluten-free, the problem arises when they are processed in the same facilities as wheat. When the same machinery is used to process both oats and wheat, there likely will be an issue of gluten contamination.
If you are gluten intolerant make sure to look at the product packaging for the “GF” labeling to ensure the oats have not been contaminated.
Actionable Advice /
Batch cooking is the only way my weekly meal planning turns out.
Pick a couple of grains, cook them up, and put them in your fridge. Start with grains that easily go with a variety of meals like rice and quinoa.
The rice can be used for stir fry, Mexican entrees, or a side with a meditteranean lentil dish. Quinoa can be mixed into salads, breakfast bowls of oats, or eaten alone with a big plate of veggies. Once you have the core staples of meals made in your fridge, it’s easy to throw something together when you get home.
If you’re still a little lost when it comes to batch cooking and meal planning try taking my course and be a meal prep pro.
how to cook grains
Sprouting the grain will do two things. First, it will begin the sprouting process of the seed. By adding water this ____________ and initiates the growth process. It also helps to reduce the phytonutrients or anti-nutrients that keep the grain from growing too early. Both are a win-win.
Instruction: I measure out the number of grains I want to cook the following day. I then cover it with 3 times that much in filtered water. Then I let it sit for about 12-24 hours. Any longer and you run the risk of starting the fermentation process. No one is trying to make beer here.*Practical tip: soak and sprout them the night before you want to cook them.
That water is no filled with dirt, debris, and any other bacteria that may have been coating the grains from their journey from the fields to your table. It’s very important to drain and discard that water. You might be surprised just how dirty it becomes.
Place the soaked grains in a fine mesh colander and rinse, rinse, rinse.
This parts simple. Put the grains in the pot and add twice the amount of water as grains. One cup of quinoa equals two cups of water (1:2 ratio). Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
The cooking times of the grains vary which is why I made this handy little chart and a video showing you how to cook each and every one of my favorite grains (shameless youtube channel plug, subscribe ok?). Remember if you soak your grains they will take less time to cook, if you rinse and cook them from a dried state, it will take a little longer.
Feel free to cook your grains without anything but a pinch of salt, however, a few spices can really pack a punch. Many whole grains are quite plain in taste which essentially makes them a blank canvas for seasoning. I always throw in a garlic clove or two, a dash of oil, and several types of spices. Another option is to substitute some of the cooking water for vegetable broth. That alone will elevate the natural flavor of the grains.