When I try explaining to someone how I eat, sometimes I find myself at a loss for exact words. Words like whole grains, unprocessed foods, organic produce and foods free from sugars and dyes escape my lips, but I’m not always understood! What exactly do you mean by whole grains? You mean like wheat bread? That’s a whole grain right? Ehhh… that’s not exactly what I mean. Whole wheat bread may contain whole grains but it’s still just a product of whole grains. And in order to qualify as a whole-grain product, whole-wheat or some other whole-grain must be listed as the very first ingredient on the food label.
Whole grains contain all of the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed as they are found in nature. They are unrefined grains that haven’t had their bran or germ removed in the milling process. Examples of pure whole grains include brown and wild rice, quinoa, bulgur, buckwheat, oats, dehulled barley and spelt. Whole grains can still be processed though–such as crushed, rolled, cracked or cooked. But many grains are overly processed and refined, and stripped of almost all nutrients. Examples of overly processed grains include white rice, white flour, white pasta, white bread, etc.
My ideal way to enjoy whole grains is in their most natural form. I even tend to stay away from whole wheat pasta and bread products these days because of all the added fillers. My favorite way to enjoy grains is by cooking up a big pot of whichever grain I fancy that day and storing it in the fridge for use throughout the week. I also do this with one or two types of beans to last me for the week. I find that I make healthier food choices when I prepare healthy eats in advance! :)
This week I made up a big batch of brown rice, barley, lentil beans and oats. I snacked on oatmeal for breakfast and made a few different meal combinations with the grains and beans. Here’s a peak at what I’ve been noshing on.
Salad beast topped with brown rice, Siesta Lentil Salad, sliced avocado, garlic hummus and salsa
So what are the health benefits of whole grains?
There are many! Whole grains are an excellent source of protein, fiber and nutrients. They are complex carbohydrates that are an amazing source of fuel for our bodies. Studies have shown that eating whole grains instead of refined grains lowers the risk of many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, as well as lowering the risk of many types of cancer.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard somebody say “I’m watching my carbs” I’d be a very rich woman. ;) The truth is our bodies need carbohydrates, and are much happier and more satisfied with a healthy balance of complex carbs, natural sugar and protein. But our bodies don’t need carbs in the form of processed snack foods and sugary desserts–instead treat yourself to some healthy fruits, veggies and whole grains, and your body will thank you!
Brown rice is probably my go-to whole grain, but I’ve been trying to experiment lately with more variety (hence the barley–which was delicious!) All of these meals make great leftovers and are easy to pack in to-go lunches for work or school. So don’t feel trapped in the mindset that whole wheat bread and pastas are the only whole-grains you can eat, because that is far from the truth!
Happy labor day everyone!