The Daily Beet

18 Nov Adventures with Ami: Whole Grains 101

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We could talk about grains for hours.  This is the condensed version of what you need to know for following our Engine 2 plans.

For our purposes today, the following definitions apply:

100% Whole Grain: This generally applies to ingredients in products like breads, crackers, tortillas, cereal and pasta.  Look for the words: whole, cracked, rolled, or stone ground. You are looking for 100% products, not 56% whole grain.  Also avoiding products that contain anything bleached, enriched, oils, or sugar (in any form) listed in the first three ingredients.  Read EVERY label.  Keep your sodium ratio at 1:1 (for example… calories:100 sodium equal to or less than 100mg).

Whole Intact Grains: these include grains that are ‘unmessed around with’ – they look just like the did when harvested or nearly the same.  Whole intact grains include: oats/rolled oats/steel cut oats, wheat: kamut, farro, wheatberries, spelt and bulgar wheat, barley, millet, brown rice, corn, buckwheat, teff, amaranth, wild rice, red/black/purple (exotic rices that have their bran intact), rye and for the purposes of this discussion, quinoa (actually a grain-like seed).

Processed Grains: This includes the items listed in the 100% whole grain category.  Products that are made from whole grains, like cereal, bread, crackers, flours that are then turned into products like pancakes, muffins, cakes etc. These items can be higher in calorie density than their whole intact grains counterpart.  These items are fine as long as they meet our label reading guidelines.  Just be aware that they can be higher in calorie density.  For those trying to lose weight, we recommend making whole intact grains the majority of your grain intake instead.

Despite the trendy Gluten-free craze, very few folks have issues with grains.  Grains provide energy, nutrients, fiber and variety to keep your plant-strong menu interesting.  For breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack, whole grains work throughout the day.  Oats aren’t only for breakfast and the same holds true for rice being reserved for a side dish at  dinner.  Think outside the box when it comes to grains. They work well in salads, as the base for stir-fry, curry, stews, chili and more.

Look for grains in the bulk section of your grocery store, in the rice aisle as well as the freezer section.  Many brands are now available ready to heat and eat straight out of the freezer.  I have seen frozen quinoa, brown rice and grain blends everywhere from Walmart and Target to your regular grocery store.  Plus look for our Engine 2 Grain Blends at Whole Foods Market in the freezer section.  These make really great ‘emergency’ meals for days when you are too tired to ‘cook’.  A frozen bag of grains + a frozen bag of veggies + a can of beans/or frozen bag of beans + spices = Dinner in 5 minutes.

Grains make great additions to recipes as well.  I use grains for bulk and texture in recipes like lentil loaves, bean burgers, sloppy joes, soups and stews.  Oatmeal, for example makes a great thickener for stew and will soak up the liquid in your bean burgers to help them hold their shape.  100% whole grain corn meal can do the same thing.  Bulgar wheat is my favorite grain to add a ‘ground beef-like’ texture when making my veggie crumbles recipe.

Don’t like oats for breakfast? Try another grain.  I like to make a polenta (corn meal) and red quinoa porridge that is pretty and filling for breakfast sometimes. Never had amaranth? Give it a shot! The wide variety of flavors and textures of whole grains can be an adventure to explore!

Here are some great grain resources for you!

The Whole Grains Council

Whole Grains Guide from Whole Foods Market

Next week… all about beans and lentils!

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Ami Mackey
Ami Mackey

Ami Mackey is a food coach at Engine 2 Extra and has been plant-strong since 2011. She is also the Program Director at St Louis All City Boxing a nonprofit youth program. She earned certificates from eCornell in Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Nutrition from NASM.

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