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low fat food

butter heart meltingI mistakenly bought low-fat yoghurt the other day, which I never do, and was intrigued by the difference in texture and taste from my usual full-fat variety. Read more

grain event

gold grains in summer timeDuring a nutrition course I ran back in England several years ago, I handed around a selection of dried grains and asked people what their opinion was of these humble foods. Sadly most of the thoughts were rather negative, birdseed, peasant food, hippy food, foods that give you wind!

It’s certainly true that whole grains such as millet, quinoa and polenta, can appear bland and difficult to cook with at first, I’m sure there are many well intentioned bags of brown rice, still sitting in cupboards a year after purchase!

As human’s, we naturally crave the carbohydrates found in grain foods for energy but have become accustomed to taking our daily grain from processed and refined versions, such as pasta, noodles and bread, which are often high in sugar and salt and lacking in fibre.

Breakfast cereals are a classic example of a junk food being promoted as a health food, with the allure of added fibre, vitamins and minerals. Read the labels carefully and go for the most natural and unadulterated products you can find.

Whole grains in contrast are an excellent source of complex carbohydrate and protein, making them perfect for body building and maintaining steady blood sugar levels. Grains contain beneficial fats unlike their meat and dairy counterparts and a broad spectrum of vitamins, including the B varieties, which can aid and support resistance to stress.

Essential minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc are also present, as is of course fibre, which is beneficial for intestinal health and cholesterol levels. There are few foods around that have such an impressive nutritional profile.

Grains are considered the most important element of a balanced and healthy diet the world over and It’s recommended that we eat around five serves of grains and cereals daily, more if pregnant, recovering from illness, or trying to put on weight, which equates to a small bowl of cereal, two slices of bread and 2 cups of cooked pasta.

Many people fear putting on weight if they eat carbohydrate foods. If you were to load up on large serves of refined foods, such as white pasta and bread this may be true, however when eating wholegrain such as barley, buckwheat and rye, the fibre helps to fill you up, so serving sizes are generally smaller.

I have also found that avoiding carbohydrates just creates a craving for them, which is often satisfied with refined foods such as pastries and chocolate that are also high in sugar and fat. People who eat whole grains regularly tend not to crave sugar and refined carbohydrates. So, rest assured, eating moderate amounts of quality, nutrient rich grains will not have you piling on the pounds.

If you haven’t already, start introducing homemade muesli, either raw or toasted into your morning routine, it’s cheaper and far more nutritious than the commercial brands. A simple oat or rice porridge is also a fabulous way to start a cooler day. If you want something lighter, look for whole puffed rice and millet flakes and add your own fruit and sweeteners for delicious natural breakfasts.

If you cannot get past toast in the morning, make sure it comes from nutrient dense bread and vary the grain, try spelt, kamut, rye and oat bread for variety and read the labels to make sure that the product is not too high in sodium and preservatives. Add something fresh and alive to your morning treat, such as a banana or avocado, or a smear of tahini topped with sprouted alfalfa.

If you love pasta and noodles, choose wholemeal varieties and vary the grains used, there are some fantastic spelt, quinoa, rice and buckwheat varieties around. Remember these products are also refined so it’s important to include the whole grain and nothing but the grain, as often as possible.

Long grain brown rice, or basmati are ideal nutrient rich summer grains, perfect for pilaffs and salads, alternatively mix brown or wild rice with white for a lighter dish. Look out for brown basmati rice in specialist shops.

Quinoa and millet are also great summer grains and are a fabulous gluten free alternative to cous cous. These are the more unusual grains and usually only available in health food shops. They are quick to cook, light and incredibly nutritious.

Quinoa pronounced keen-wah, is technically a fruit but cooked and used as a grain, it is the only plant food to contain all eight essential amino acids and weight for weight contains more protein than meat, it’s considered the queen of grains due to it’s superior nutrient content.

When introducing wholegrain foods into the diet do so slowly and chew them really well to avoid creating intestinal wind. The added fibre can also mean that extra water may be needed to keep things moving. If you have trouble digesting whole grains, it’s beneficial to soak them for around 8 hours or overnight in water with a piece of kombu seaweed, as this will help to activate and soften them.

Some people find combing meat products and grains a problem, causing bloating and wind, this is because they digest differently in the gut. If this happens to you, try eating your grains with legumes and vegetables only and meat products with vegetables and salad to ease digestion.

Introducing whole grains into the diet can make for a very challenging change and it can take time to move away from traditional dishes and develop a repertoire of favourite grain recipes. It is however worth the effort and many people are surprised at how satisfying grain foods can be and how easy they are to cook once you get the hang of it.

Once you start experimenting and enjoy these remarkable superfoods, your energy and digestion will most likely improve, you will feel calmer and I’m sure, never look at birdseed and hippy food in the same way again.