Are Whole Grains for Me?

In last week’s article, Glorious Grains, we discussed a variety of grains and the benefits of each. Whole grains are generally regarded as an important part of a healthy diet; however not all whole grains may be suitable for all people. In part two of this two-part series, we discuss the benefits of whole grains, as well as how to determine whether they are the right choice for you. Grains have been a source of confusion for years. A common question many people have is whether they are actually good or bad to consume. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer; however, the goal of this article is to provide some information to help you further explore options to discover what may be best for you.

It is important to understand the human body needs carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are used by the body for energy. The USDA recommends that 45% to 65% of your total calories come from carbohydrates. Whole grains are considered “complex” carbohydrates and an important source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In addition to whole grains, sweet potatoes, squash, beans, and fruits are all significant sources of carbohydrates. The carbohydrates we need to be more cautious about consuming are refined and processed carbohydrates, also known as “franken-foods.” These include white pasta, white bread, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods, which are considered “simple” carbohydrates and do not provide the same benefits as complex carbohydrates.

Some studies have shown that the intake of whole grain products, combined with a healthy diet and daily movement, is associated with reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, all of which are inflammatory diseases. One reason may be because of dietary phytochemicals found in whole grains, which have been associated with reduced risk of chronic disease. Plant sterols and stanols, which vary depending on the type of whole grain, may contribute to the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels. Refined wheat flower, however, loses 83% of beneficial phenolic acids, 79% total flavonoids, and large amounts of other components. Therefore, strive to eat whole grains when possible and avoid their refined alternatives.

Despite the health benefits of whole grains, there are some health concerns you should be aware of. The phytic acid in many whole grains has been known to decrease mineral absorption, especially zinc, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Phytic acid binds to the minerals in the gastrointestinal tract, unless reduced or nullified by soaking, sprouting and/or fermentation before cooking. Bound minerals may lead to mineral deficiencies and phytic acid, in particular, may inhibit the enzymes needed to digest food. Certain grains, like quinoa, only need to be rinsed, whereas others are better soaked overnight to release the phytic acid. Doing so may help improve digestibility in those who may be less tolerant of grains.

Gluten found in some grains (like wheat, rye, and barley) is another health concern for sensitive individuals. Wheat allergies, gluten sensitivity, and Celiac disease affects about 10% of the general population, although not everyone is aware they have an issue. There are more than 250 symptoms of gluten sensitivity, include bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort, brain fog, headaches, migraines, acne, fatigue, and bone or joint pain. Celiac disease can be diagnosed with an intestinal biopsy, whereas wheat/gluten allergies/sensitivities only require a simple blood or skin test. Diagnosing a gluten intolerance, however, has no official method of diagnosis, so it can be difficult to know if you have one. Gluten may not be the only offender in grains and some may find that elimination of other grains in their diet makes them feel better.

If you suspect you may have a gluten or grain sensitivity, you may wish to eliminate all grains for 7 days and then slowly reintroduce each one at a time, two days apart from each other. Before starting the elimination diet, take stock of your symptoms -- are you looking to clear up your skin or solve digestive issues? This will help set you up to notice important changes during the elimination. After 7 days of being grain-free, start reintroducing grains one at a time. For example, add brown rice back into your diet, wait two days, reintroduce oats, wait two days, and repeat. See how you feel over the 48-hour reintroduction phase. If you have no reaction, eat the same food again and notice how you feel; from there you can determine whether to reincorporate the food on a regular basis. Most importantly, pay attention to your symptoms. Notice how you feel -- maybe your skin clears up, your energy improves, or you’re not as bloated as you were the previous week. Noticing how you feel will be important in determining how you proceed with grains in the future.

Finally, if you’ve ever read the book, “Eat Right 4 Your Type” by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, you’ll know Dr. D’Adamo states that those with “O” blood types do not possess the digestive enzymes to process grains. Whether you believe in this theory or not, if you feel you do not digest grain very well, you may consider working with your health care provider to determine whether trying digestive enzymes with grain consumption may improve grain digestibility.

There are lots of misconceptions when it comes to whole grains -- are they good or bad for you? The answer is dependent upon each individual. Regardless of your preference for grains, be sure you consume a healthy balance of carbohydrates, which may include whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes.

By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Wellness Education Specialist


This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease. 

Glorious Grains

Whole grains provide complex carbohydrates, key vitamins and minerals, and fiber, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, reduce inflammation, and aid in weight management when consumed with a sensible diet and an active lifestyle that includes regular exercise. This is opposed to simple or refined carbohydrates, which lack beneficial fiber and nutrients.

Most Americans tend to get the majority of their servings of grains from breakfast cereals, pasta, and bread; however whole grains extend beyond these traditional sources. When looking at the different alternatives, you may find these varieties confusing or intimidating. The biggest question may be, “What do I actually do with them?” Next time you’re at the store wondering what to eat or looking for a new dish, branch out a bit and try one of the many varieties of whole grains. Be mindful of how whole grains can complement your healthy diet and lifestyle. A few examples include:

Amaranth – Amaranth is slowly becoming more mainstream and used to be referred to as “king seed.” It is gluten-free, has a higher level of protein compared to most grains (16%), contains 8 of 9 amino acids and is particularly high in Lysine. Amaranth can either be light and nutty or lively and peppery. Around the world, Amaranth is used for breakfast porridge, baked in sweet treats, or popped like corn.

Barley –Barley is one of the oldest grains and is high in fiber. Barley should be purchased in its complete or “hulled” form. Pearled barley should be avoided, as it’s not considered a whole grain because parts of the bran have been removed. Allow yourself some time when preparing barley, as it can take up to an hour to cook; it can be refrigerated or stored in the freezer as needed. Try it as an addition to baked chicken, stir-fries, or antipasto salads.

Bulgur - Bulgur is made when wheat kernels are boiled, drained, cracked, and sorted by size and may be referred to as “Middle Eastern pasta” because it is so versatile. Bulgur takes about 10 minutes to cook and is very nutritious. You can find bulgur in pilafs, salads, and in traditional Tabbouleh.

Oats – Oats are almost always found in their complete form, with their outer and inner layers, the bran and germ, in-tact. Both steel cut oats (also called Scottish oats) and rolled oats are nutrition superstars, however, steel cut oats have a chewier, nuttier texture then regular oats and take longer to cook. While oats do not contain gluten, they may be contaminated with gluten, so make sure you read your labels carefully.

Quinoa – Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a versatile grain that can be eaten alone, as a pasta, or added to soups, salads, or baked goods (see our peanut butter quinoa cookie recipe!) The Incas recognized quinoa as a food that would give its warriors stamina and has been a staple in South American’s diet for centuries. Quinoa is a complete protein (containing all 9 amino acids) with a nutty flavor. Try the black, red or gold varieties for a different taste and texture.

Rice – Rice is inexpensive, readily available, and as versatile as your imagination. Brown rice is high in fiber, a good source of B vitamins, and rich in minerals, such as magnesium and selenium. When you choose white rice, however, you are no longer receiving these nutrients because they existed in the bran and germ, which has been removed. Look beyond traditional brown rice and try black, purple, or red rice varieties, which all offer unique flavors. Note that different types of rice may take longer to cook. Although many people choose to use a rice cooker, a simple saucepan is all you need. Generally, the longer the grain, the less sticky and starch texture -- for example, long-grain rice is ideal in pilaf-type dishes, but short-grain rice is great stuffed in grape leaves.

This is just a small sample of whole grains, so don’t be afraid to get creative in the kitchen and expand your palate. Other suggestions you may try: Add barley in vegetable soup or stews; use bulgur in casseroles or combine with black beans to make veggie patties; or use rolled oats as a coating for baked chicken or fish. The possibilities are endless! The easiest way to buy whole grains is in bulk and then store them in a tightly-sealed container in a cool, dark, dry space. When stored properly, most grains can last up to a year. Be sure to RINSE your grains before cooking. Rinsing grains helps release the phytic acid. To learn more about phytic acid and how it affects your body, be sure to read our next blog, “Are Grains for Me?”

By Amy Kurtz BA, BS, CI-CPT, Certified Health Coach 
Wellness Education Specialist

This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease. 

5 Health Promoting Spices

In addition to their flavor and aroma, spices have traditionally been used to support health and well-being. Science has also confirmed some of the health benefits that may be achieved by consuming spices. Here’s a list of five spices you may use in your home cooking to help promote health and vitality.

Cinnamon has been used as a spice for centuries and was traditionally prized for its ability to soothe digestive problems. Today, scientists are more interested in cinnamon for its potential ability to help promote healthy sugar metabolism. In vitro, studies suggest that cinnamon may help the body metabolize sugar. Some preliminary studies in humans have provided promising evidence, while others have shown little benefit, however. While it’s not known for whom and under what circumstances cinnamon may be most beneficial, consider making your next dessert indulgence one that includes cinnamon to help promote metabolism of the sugar. For long-term support, consider consuming ¼-½ tsp daily, which is the amount shown to be effective in many studies.

Garlic is a food and spice that has been used for a wide variety of purposes in the traditional herbal practices of ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, China, India, and medieval Europe, among others. One potential benefit of garlic that scientists are currently investigating, is its ability to promote cardiovascular health. Certain studies have noted improvements in a variety of cardiovascular risk parameters using different types of garlic supplements. Due to poor standardization of garlic supplements and lack of data on the use of whole garlic, it is difficult to generalize amounts that may promote health. One half clove of garlic consumed daily may be sufficient. However, further study on raw garlic is needed.

Rosemary has traditionally been used to improve memory. For this reason, rosemary has become a symbol of remembrance in many cultures. This is why in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia gives Laertes a sprig of rosemary to remember her by. A recent study on humans confirmed that rosemary may indeed be a promising method to support healthy memory with advancing age. The researchers found there was a short-term enhancement of memory in older adults following consumption of 750 mg powdered rosemary, equivalent to approximately ¼ tsp. The aroma of rosemary also appears to improve certain measures of memory. The long-term benefits from consuming rosemary are not yet known; but adding rosemary to your cooking may prove to be an effective way to promote healthy memory function. At the very least, this delicious spice will certainly enhance the flavor of many dishes.

Sage is another spice that has traditionally been used to support healthy memory. This is not surprising, since it is thought that rosmarinic acid, a primary component of both rosemary and sage, may be responsible for the mental health-promoting benefits of sage. One study has confirmed that a long-term use of a sage extract was able to improve memory among elderly individuals with dementia. No conclusions can be drawn based solely upon this single study. It is also not known whether culinary amounts of sage, consumed sporadically, may provide similar benefits. Nevertheless, the traditional use and promising research suggests that sage may be another valuable spice to keep stocked in your kitchen.

Turmeric is a popular spice in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. The primary active compound in turmeric, curcumin, is one of the most extensively studied plant compounds with nearly 3000 in vitro and animal experiments to date suggesting numerous health benefits. It has also been used for more than 2000 years in traditional herbal practices for a variety of purposes, including supporting digestion and joint health. While healthy digestion and many of the potential benefits demonstrated through in vitro and animal research have not been demonstrated in human subjects, the joint health promoting properties have been studied among humans and shows notable potential. The dose commonly suggested to support healthy joint function (equivalent to 1.5 tsp powdered turmeric) is significantly greater than what is typically used in cooking, however. Smaller doses of turmeric have not been studied so it is impossible to rule out potential benefit from smaller amounts found in food. The evidence on turmeric in humans is not conclusive but has sparked interest among many in the scientific community.

By Ron Beckstrom, MS, RD, HFS

Nutrition Specialist

This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.

Healthy School Lunches Kids Will Love

Packing a healthy school lunch is easy. Getting your kids to eat that healthy lunch is another issue entirely. Since the advent of the doughnut, parents have struggled to convince their kids to eat the nutritious foods they prepare for them. The following are a few tips, and sample cold lunches that may help get your kids to finally eat those veggie sticks and whole grains while away at school.

  • Make lunches fun!

At first glance, the look and taste of Lunchables® isn’t anything too special. Contrary to appearances, however, Lunchables quickly became one of Oscar Meyer’s most successful products, partly due to the fun kids had eating them. Consider making your own healthy alternative to Lunchables. Pack some whole grain crackers; thick-cut, lean meat; cucumber slices; avocado slices; spinach leaves; etc. and allow kids to build their own mini lunch sandwiches. Consider using cookie cutters to cut the meat into fun shapes to enhance the fun. Use the leftover scraps of meat on a chef salad you can take for your own lunch. 

  • Add in tasty dips.

Veggies are notorious for being rejected by picky eaters. Many kids will eat them; however, with a tasty to dip, veggies can appear a bit more appealing to kids. Various dip options can be just as healthy as the veggies; but your kids will never know. Cheeses or creams are often the base of dips and impart a rich flavor. Avocado or an olive tapenade are healthier bases that contain healthy fats, which still provide a lot of flavor. As an added bonus, the fat in the dip will actually help enhance the absorption of carotenoids and fat soluble vitamins, as well. Fat doesn’t need to be the principle ingredient in dips. Recipes using yogurt can be surprisingly flavorful, and hummus is mostly made of beans, which pack a fiber and protein-laden nutritional punch.

  • Involve kids in the purchasing and preparation process.

Letting your kids help choose foods for their lunch at the grocery store, makes them feel like they have some control over their food choices, and may increase their willingness to eat them. The trick is to make sure you’re comfortable with all the options presented. Kids may also often enjoy preparing their own foods, with help from you, as needed, depending on their age. As kids prepare the food, they become more comfortable with the ingredients and the dish as a whole, and may be more likely to eat it, especially if it is a new food. Kids also take great pride in what they create, and may feel a positive sense of accomplishment as they happily eat their food.

  • Make it sweet.

It’s not a secret that kids love sweet foods. While it is still advisable to limit the amount of sweetener used in the preparation of their foods, consider adding a little fruit puree, honey, or maple syrup to enhance the appeal of certain foods. A honey glaze on meats, lightly candied nuts, fresh fruit added to a vegetable smoothie, or fruits incorporated into whole-grain baked goods like breads, muffins, or cookies, can all be ways to get kids to eat healthy foods. As children get older, gradually decrease the frequency and amount of sweetener added to foods.

By Ron Beckstrom, MS, RD, HFS
Nutrition Specialist

This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.