“Eat More Whole Grains”.
I can’t think of one public health organization that doesn’t put that phrase front and center in their diet guidelines. It’s not bad advice. Whole grains retain all the nutritional value of the grain, including the fiber. Nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E and potassium are stripped out of refined grains.
What is the average person supposed to do with that advice? How exactly do you “eat more whole grains?” Nature abhors a vacuum; so do food companies. If consumers need help eating more whole grains, marketing department come to the rescue! They sprinkle a few whole grain ingredients into a bread or cereal or cracker and proclaim “Contains Whole Grains!!” in big print on the package label. You buy the products and feel like you’ve made a healthy choice. Have you?
How much whole grain?
The official whole grain intake recommendation is… well… confusing. Both the USDA MyPlate and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest you “make half your grains whole grains,” which apparently means 3-5 “servings” of whole grain daly. What’s a serving? Examples include 1/2 cup cooked whole grain such as brown rice, or 1 ounce uncooked whole grain or whole wheat pasta. Do you weigh out all your food every time you cook or eat? To make it more confusing, if you buy bread or cereal that is only partially whole grain, how does that count?
A food that is entirely made from a whole grain ingredient can be labeled “100% whole grain” and would count towards your daily serving recommendation. Plenty of foods are 100% whole grain, such as:
- brown rice
- whole wheat flour
- bulgur wheat
- rye or wheat berries
Other than oatmeal and whole wheat flour, most of those are not widespread in our food supply. Products, like cereal or bread, that claim to be multigrain may be mostly white flour with a smattering of whole wheat or cornmeal. The multigrain claim isn’t false; it’s just not meaningful.
If you want to eat more whole grains, one of the surest ways to do that is to eat actual cooked grains. The problem is that whole grains typically take a long time to cook. Brown rice can take twice as long as white rice. Wheat berries can take even longer. Solution: a pressurized instant cooker.
I ended up buying a small sized instant cooker (the Instant Pot brand) months ago. I was not convinced I needed yet another kitchen gadget, and I went through the whole “oh no it could blow up!” thing at first. But in fact, it’s extremely easy to use, and perfect for quickly cooking whole grains.
I use whole grains for main dish salads, side dishes, to put into soups or breads, or just to snack on. I was gifted a package of Seven Grains Mix (brown rice, sweet brown rice, red rice, buckwheat groats, quinoa, black rice and millet), which I cooked in the instant cooker. The result is chewy and delicious (see top photo), and now a favorite snack. Healthy, too.
Tips for including more whole grains in your diet
- Look for the Whole Grain Council’s stamp on products like bread and cereal. This stamp may indicate 100% whole grain, 50% or simply state the grams of whole grain per serving.
- Cook whole grains in their natural form and use them in meals, snacks and baking.
- Use whole grain flours for some types of baking. Breads, muffins and quick breads are the best types of recipes. Honestly, substituting whole wheat flour in a cake recipe isn’t a great idea. Plus cake shouldn’t be a main part of your diet anyway. Just bake (or buy) normal cake on the rare occasional that cake is on the menu.
- If you like crackers, find whole grain varieties (Rye Krisp and AkMak are two good examples). Or find crackers that are at least 50% whole grain ingredients.
- Whole grain pasta and noodles are another option. My favorite choice is buckwheat soba noodles, tossed with scallions, tofu, snow peas, broccoli, garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce.
Easy Soba Noodles with Tofu
Buckwheat noodles can be served hot or cold. Serve leftovers cold.
- 6 oz buckwheat soba noodles
- 1 package firm tofu, drained
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup minced scallions
- 2 cups sugar snap/snow peas, washed
- 1-2 cups broccoli flowerets
- 1 carrot, peeled and grated
- peanut oil
- soy sauce
- toasted sesame oil
- Step 1 Prepare the noodles according to package instructions. Do not over cook. Once cooked, drizzle with some peanut oil and set aside.
- Step 2 Cut the tofu block in half
- Step 3 cut each half into about 8 slices.
- Step 4 Heat a frying pan or wok and add a TB peanut or other neutral oil.
- Step 5 Stir fry the broccoli and peas for 1-2 minutes.
- Step 6 Add the garlic, carrot, scallions and stir for another minute.
- Step 7 Add the tofu slices and stir briefly to heat through.
- Step 8 Turn off the heat.
- Step 9 Add the noodles to the pan. Stir gently to combine.
- Step 10 Add 1-2 TB sesame oil and soy sauce to taste. Serve immediately.