In the Kitchen with Sidra: Making the Switch to Healthy Whole Grains

popcornNutritionists have been pushing whole grains forever, and the big food companies are finally catching on—the words “whole grain” seem to be on everything from cereal to snack chips. It’s a good trend because a diet rich in whole grains can help protect against heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer, to name just a few. Not to mention, whole grains are rich in fiber, so they can help you stay full longer. That can make losing weight a little easier. You obviously need whole grains in your diet, so it’s worth taking a little time to educate yourself about what’s a whole grain and what’s not. Check out this quick grain guide to get the whole picture.

What are whole grains?
A whole grain is just as it sounds, a complete grain—the germ, the bran and the endosperm. On the other hand, refined grains are only part of the grain. For instance, when you eat white rice,
white flour, refined cornmeal, and foods made from these these refined grains, such as puffed rice cereal, white bread, and cornbread, you’re eating only the endosperm. When the other two parts of the grain are removed, some of its most important nutrients, including fiber, iron, B-vitamins and vitamin E, are stripped away. Many refined products are later enriched with some of these nutrients, but even still, they fall short of the real thing because they’re lacking the magnesium and phytonutrients (beneficial plant compounds) naturally found in whole grains.

Where to find whole grains
Labels can be deceiving when it comes to whole grains. For instance, many multi-grain products are simply a collection of refined grains, yet their earthy-looking labels would have you think you’re getting a whole grain product. Or, a food may have a little whole grain, but is made mainly with white flour. They key to ensuring you’re tossing a real whole grain product into your cart is to check the ingredients list. Oatmeal and brown rice are whole grains; for other grains, look for the word “whole” as in whole wheat or whole grain corn as one of the first ingredients.

To increase your intake of whole grains—which I actually prefer because they’re more flavorful than the refined version—try the following suggestions: Serve brown rice or bulgur wheat as a side to entrées instead of white rice. Buy 100% whole grain bread, and
whole grain cornmeal instead of refined cornmeal. Snack on popcorn (yes, popcorn is a whole grain). In traditional baking recipes, you can replace at least half of the white flour for whole-wheat flour. In fact, I’ve developed a recipe for muffins that are 100 percent whole grain—and 100 percent delicious. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

Apple Walnut Muffin
Makes 6 muffins

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS
1 egg
1/4 cup fat-free milk or soymilk
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup wheat bran
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup shredded apple
¼ cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. With a standing or hand mixer, combine egg, milk, honey, sugar, and oil until completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Add flour, bran, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, apple and walnuts and mix until just combined, about 30 seconds.

3. Divide batter evenly among six cups of a muffin tin, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutritional Information
1 serving
Calories: 171
Protein: 4 g
Carbohydrate: 25 g
Dietary Fiber: 4 g
Sugars: 13 g
Total Fat: 8 g
Saturated Fat: 1.1 g
Cholesterol: 36 mg
Calcium: 56 mg
Sodium: 294 mg