3 New Delicious Whole Grains

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - 3:05pm

By Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN

Carbohydrates should be the staple of your diet and should be the foundation of every meal (or 2/3 of your plate). Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are some examples of healthful carbohydrate-rich foods. This advice has stood the test of time and remains unchanged despite recent diet fads. Carbohydrates fuel mind and body so you can push hard and go the distance. Think creatively and nutritiously! The best choice is brightly colored produce and fiber-rich grains. Whole grains and cereals are the new health food.

You know oatmeal, whole wheat bread, pasta, and brown rice are grains (or grain-rich). Keep in mind that a varied diet is one that incorporates many foods. Want to experience new flavors and textures while increasing the nutrition in your diet? Then try out the hottest trends in the grain family: quinoa, barley, and amaranth. These are new only to the American plate, as they have been around for thousands of years and are commonly found in the diets of cultures around the world.

1.   Quinoa is very high in iron

Quinoa has been cultivated in the mountain regions of Peru and Chile for over 5,000 years and was a staple in the native Indian diet. Most commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually a relative of leafy green vegetables (spinach and Swiss chard). It is a birdseed-shaped and mild-flavored. Quinoa surpasses many foods in its nutritional content, boasting 700% more iron than the same serving size of enriched white rice. It is a protein-rich grain, a good source of calcium and can be used as a substitute for rice in casseroles, stuffed bell peppers, side dishes, soups and stews, or as a hot cereal.

2.   Barley is an excellent source of fiber and selenium

Barley originated in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, where it has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years. Roman athletes honored barley for the strength that barley gave them and gladiators were known as hordearii, which means “eaters of barley”. In the 17th century, English and Dutch settlers brought barley with them to the United States. It’s a versatile cereal grain with a nut-like flavor and an appealing chewy, pasta-like consistency. Adding whole grain barley to your pot will improve your health along with the flavor of whatever soup or stew you're cooking. Another claim to barley’s nutritional fame is that it is an excellent source of fiber and selenium, (also a good source of phosphorus, copper, and manganese). A cup of cooked barley provides 52% of the daily value for selenium, an important benefit since many Americans do not consume enough selenium-rich foods. You can find instant pearled barley at most grocery stores (same aisle as cereals or rice). It can’t get much easier than that!

3.   Amaranth is high in protein, calcium and iron

Amaranth has a colorful history, is highly nutritious, and the plant is both attractive and useful. It’s technically both a vegetable and a grain (leaves of the plant are the vegetable and the seeds are the grain). It was cultivated as a vegetable crop by early civilizations over 2,000 years ago, and continues to be used world-wide even today. Amaranth didn’t gain support in the United States until 1975 but is now grown in several states. It is not a mainstream food however. You can find it in natural food stores. Amaranth seeds can be ground into flour and used in baked goods and pasta. Amaranth flour must be mixed with other flours for baking yeast breads (one part amaranth flour to three or four parts other grain flours). In non-yeast baked goods, such as flatbreads and pancakes, you can use 100% amaranth flour. Add the flour to soups and stews as a nutritious thickening agent. Amaranth can be cooked as a cereal, popped like popcorn, sprouted or toasted. It is very high in protein and contains high levels of calcium and iron when compared to other cereal grains. Sprouting amaranth seeds will increase the level of some of the nutrients and the sprouts can be used on sandwiches and in salads, or just to munch on.

For more information on amaranth see the following article from TheDietChannel: Food Trends: New Grains & Leafy Greens to Diversify your Diets.