By Carrie Dennett, M.P.H., R.D.N., Environmental Nutrition Entree
One of the first things that comes to mind when you think about whole grains is how healthy they are. But even when nutrition and health are priorities, we eat with our eyes and eat to satisfy our taste buds. Yes, they are nutritious, but whole grains are also beautiful to behold and packed with flavor and texture.
Health benefits in the kernel
In their whole form, grains still have their bran and germ, making them rich in fiber, antioxidants and B vitamins. They also have some healthy fats. Refined grains are missing the bran, germ or both, leaving mostly starch. A study published last June in the journal Circulation found that people who ate the most whole grains (about 4 servings per day), compared with those who ate little or no whole grains, had a lower risk of dying. The researchers reported that not only are whole grains fiber-rich, which helps lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar, but they have multiple bioactive compounds that could contribute to their health benefits.
This study is just the latest to demonstrate the healthfulness of whole grains. It’s also consistent with research supporting the health benefits of plant-based diets – including the traditional Mediterranean diet, in which whole grains play a significant role. But focusing on the health benefits may get in the way of fully appreciating the appeal of whole grains.
Savor the flavor
To Maria Speck, author of “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” and “Simply Ancient Grains,” the real motivation for using whole grains is flavor, with nutrition just a lucky side bonus. Growing up with German and Greek heritage, she says, “No one ever said, ‘You better eat your healthy whole grains.’ Instead, they were just part of our everyday meals.”
Tips for making whole grains absolutely delicious
Whole grains have fuller, more nuanced flavor, which can seem unfamiliar at first. Once your palate adjusts, your taste buds will have a new world to explore.
Plan ahead: Some of the most flavorful grains, like rye berries and wild rice have longer cooking times. Speck suggests cooking batches to refrigerate or freeze
Enjoy texture too: Speck says that whole grains have a spectrum of textures. “Oatmeal, polenta and millet can all be made into supremely comforting dishes.” Wheat berries, spelt berries and rye berries are chewy. Quinoa and brown rice are somewhere in the middle.
Adjust accordingly: Whole grains and whole grain pasta often pair best with more assertively flavored sauces and ingredients that can match them, like those from the Mediterranean.
Find great resources: Whole grains are everywhere, from magazines to cookbooks to the Internet. One online resource is the Whole Grains Council (wholegrains
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