Take It In: Whole grains boost health, shrink waistlines

Apr 20, 2019 by Carol Bareuther

Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

Carbohydrate-containing foods often get a bad rap as fattening. Yet complex carbs such as grains, especially whole grains, can actually help to protect against obesity, as well as other health ills. Whole grains are those that contain the entire seed of the plant: the bran, germ and endosperm. This complete package provides key nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber, as well as disease-fighting phytonutrients, according to the Oldways Whole Grain Council, based in Boston. Rice, corn and wheat are among the most recognized whole grains. However, for added nutrition and taste, expand the range of whole grains you eat. Here are three you may, or may not, have heard of:

Amaranth. The ancient Aztec people roasted this seed and ate it like popcorn. Polenta, pudding, porridge and pancakes are a few ways amaranth is enjoyed today. Termed a ‘pseudo-grain,’ because it isn’t botanically a grain, amaranth cooks and has a nutrient profile like a true grain. One claim to fame is its quantity and quality of protein. One-cup of cooked amaranth serves up 9 grams of protein, more than in an ounce of meat, poultry or fish. Like these animal foods, amaranth provides a complete protein source with all essential amino acids needed for building and repairing body tissues. The calorie count is 250 per cup, comparable to the same amount of cooked long-grain brown rice. Indian researchers in 2016 published study results that revealed amaranth, as well as fellow pseudo-grain, quinoa, can help control appetite and thus combat obesity.

Quinoa. This favorite grain of the South American Incas is botanically a relative of veggies like beets and swiss chard. The size of a sesame seed, quinoa cooks quickly (10 to 12 minutes) and comes in a variety of colors. Similar to amaranth, quinoa is a good source of protein (8 grams per cup) and offers a full complement of protein-building amino acids. It’s the phytonutrients in quinoa that offer an extra boost against disease. For example, Australian scientists back in 2015 published research showing that protein, a group of phytonutrients called saponins, and 20-hydroxyecdysone, a naturally-occurring steroid hormone, all found in quinoa, were linked to decreased weight gain, improved blood fats that can help to prevent heart disease, and better ability to respond to the kind of inflammation that can lead to chronic ailments like diabetes and cancer. Try quinoa is a pilaf, as a stuffing for bell peppers, tossed with veggies and vinaigrette in a cold salad, and as a coating for baked chicken or fish.

Einkorn. Food scientists believe this is the most ancient genetic species of wheat. Though mostly replaced today by more modern wheat varieties, Einkorn is still grown in European countries and the western U.S. Mostly used as a flour, one cup of einkorn provides 12 grams of protein and 300 calories, whereas the whole wheat flour on supermarket shelves contains 16 grams of protein and 400 calories per same serving. What sets Einkorn apart is its higher content of phytonutrients called carotenoids. Specifically, Italian scientists recently showed that making sourdough bread from einkorn flour created loafs with more carotenoids in the finished slice. The double-whammy effect came from the einkorn itself and the sourdough fermentation, which worked to preserve the carotenoid levels during baking. Studies show carotenoids can protect against a variety of problems, including cancer and heart disease.

If you’re stuck in a grain rut, try amaranth, quinoa and einkorn for something nutritiously and deliciously different.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.