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March Into Nutrition: Whole Grains As Part of a Healthy Lifestyle

In March we celebrate National Nutrition Month and so we turn the spotlight to one of the least celebrated foods of the 21st century: the grain. It began its recent downfall in the early 2000’s with the Atkins Diet and to this day, continues to be the nemesis of The Paleo Movement.

In truth, refined grains have a long list of negative effects on the body including blood-sugar imbalance and inflammation. However, we can’t blame the grain, we can only blame ourselves. In their unrefined state, grains—such as wheat, rice, and corn—are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that offer a mouthful of nutrition.

When we refine grains, we remove the germ and the bran from the endosperm, discarding the majority of the fiber and nutrients. Whole grains, which retain all of the germ, bran, and endosperm, are often mistaken for being unhealthy, despite being full of all the good stuff.

To truly embrace good grain, we have to move past typical pastas, pizzas, and pastries. There are many types of whole grains bursting with nutrition and distinct flavors. If you’re intimidated by these unfamiliar ingredients, try incorporating them into something you know well.

Amaranth

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This tiny seed, which has a slight peppery bite, originates in South America. You can still find it there at street food stalls, popped like popcorn. Here in the States, amaranth is showing up in cereals and breads, as well as baking flour.

Pearl Barley

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Because the hull and bran of barley must be stripped to make it edible, it’s not technically a whole grain, but the nutrients and fiber are still present. Barley has a chewy texture and slightly sweet taste. It makes a hearty addition to soups or stews in place of pasta or potatoes.

Buckwheat

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This is a popular gluten-free flour made from nutrient rich seeds. It’s commonly found in Asian soba noodles, but can be used to replace conventional refined flour. Buckwheat groats can also substitute for rice.

Corn

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This sweet American favorite doesn’t have to be served canned or frozen. Try dry popping . cup in a plain paper bag in the microwave—no oil required. It makes a delicious snack, full of fiber that will keep you full for hours.

Spelt

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An ancient grain, also called farro, this sweet one is a favorite with those who have a hard time digesting gluten. Spelt flour is now a popular ingredient featured in waffles and organic breads. Spelt can also be cooked over the stove.

Millet

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High in protein, millet is a tiny grain widely used in India and Africa. When prepared, the texture can range from fluffy cooked rice to mashed potatoes. Since it is cooked in the same way as quinoa, the two blend well together as a whole grain side dish.

Oats

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Some varieties of oats are gluten-free, making them a great option for gluten-intolerant eaters. Expectant mothers frequently turn to steel-cut oats to provide nutrition. Oats are delicious ground up into bread or toasted into a homemade granola with coconut and dried berries.

Quinoa

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Pronounced “keen-wah”, quinoa is a fast-cooking round seed with a small sprouted “tail” that opens when it is tender. It’s perfect as a substitute for rice in a side dish or in soups and stews. Quinoa plays well with other grains, especially brown rice and millet.

Bulgur

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Used as a rice alternative, bulgur is made from boiled and cracked wheat kernels. Add to pilafs, stir-fry, or your morning oatmeal to add a nutty sweet flavor.

Teff

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Used in Ethiopia to make injera, this gluten-free relative of millet is one of the smallest grains in the world. Where crop availability is limited, the iron and calcium in teff are easy to swallow with a sweet taste. It can be cooked simply as porridge or added to baked goods.

by Robin Beaudoin

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