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The Importance of Breakfast and Whole Grains

By Charlyn Fargo

Most of us can remember our mothers telling us breakfast is the most important meal of day. And Mom was right; it’s not a meal we want to skip. It literally “breaks the fast” and kick-starts our metabolism, helping burn calories throughout the day.

Breakfast also provides energy to get things done and focus. Studies have linked eating breakfast to good health, better memory, lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) and lower risk for diabetes, heart disease and being overweight.

Skipping that morning meal can throw off your body’s rhythm of fasting and eating. (Hence, intermittent fasting may not be such a good idea after all.) When we get up in the morning, our blood sugar tends to be low; eating breakfast brings it up to normal levels.

However, just over half of Americans eat breakfast daily, even though 8 in 10 Americans agree it’s the most important meal of the day, according to a survey by Quaker Oats.

Can breakfast really help you lose weight? Some studies say yes. Researchers have found that on average, people who eat breakfast are thinner than those who don’t, perhaps because eating protein and fiber in the morning keeps the appetite in check. Studies show that most people who lose weight and keep the weight off eat breakfast every day.

We know that breakfast helps kids do better in school, and schools have responded by providing breakfast to students.

Students who don’t eat breakfast have a harder time focusing, are more tired and don’t do as well on schoolwork. If you have a child who doesn’t like eating in the morning at home, pack something for the ride to school or in between classes.

In our home, the solution was a smoothie that my daughter could drink on the ride to school.

So how can you make breakfast a daily habit? Think outside the box for your morning meal.

The Quaker survey found that nearly half of consumers prefer savory flavors for breakfast. So, ditch the not-so-healthy doughnut for a vegetable frittata or an egg omelet in a cup that can be popped in the microwave. You can also add a sliced hard-boiled egg to avocado toast or spread a bagel with peanut or almond butter.

Try for a mix of foods that have carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and fiber: Greek yogurt with granola and berries, smoothies or a make-ahead option of overnight oats, whole grain cereal with low-fat milk or a whole-grain protein bar.

All About Whole Grains

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to grains. Should you eat grains? What is a whole grain? How do you cook them? Here are some answers from a Whole Grains: Breaking Barriers conference held in Boston.

Grains worldwide provide nearly 50% of the calories eaten. All grains start out as whole grains, which contain all three original edible parts of the kernel. Processing can turn a whole grain into a refined grain, which means the bran and germ have been removed to make them easier to bake into bread or milder in taste or give them a longer shelf life.

Without the bran and the germ, about 25% of the grain’s protein is lost along with at least 17 key nutrients. Processors add back some vitamins and minerals in the enriching process, but whole grains are healthier, providing more protein, fiber and up to 2 to 3 times more of vitamins and nutrients.

Brown rice, for example, is an intact whole grain, while whole wheat flour has been milled. Whether a grain is still intact or has been cracked split or ground, it’s still considered a whole grain as long as all three of the original edible parts (the bran, germ and endosperm) are still present in their original proportions. You can identify a whole grain by the whole grain stamp on the package.

Cooking whole grains is easy. You simply place uncooked grains in a pot, whether it’s rice, quinoa, barley or amaranth, then add at least twice as much water or broth, and bring the grain to a boil, then simmer. When it’s soft, it’s ready and you can drain any excess water off. Grains can simmer anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the grain.

Here are some ways to get more whole grains:

  1. Substitute half the white flour with whole-wheat flour in your regular recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes.
  2. Replace one third of the flour in a recipe with quick oats or old-fashioned oats.
  3. Add half a cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice or barley to bread stuffing.
  4. Add half a cup of cooked wheat or rye berries, wild rice, brown rice sorghum or barley to your favorite canned or homemade soup.
  5. Use whole corn meal for corn cakes, corn breads and corn muffins.
  6. Add three-quarters cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey when making meatballs, burgers or meatloaf.
  7. Stir a handful of rolled oats in yogurt.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois. For comments or questions, contact her at charfarg@aol.com.

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