ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

Behind the Taste and Health Quotient of Whole Grains

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Image: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, source Washington Post.

Truth be told, I was a little worried by the recipe testing I did for my story, "Whole New Ballgame for Whole Grains," in the WaPo. I was baking out of Kim Boyce's recently published Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours, which represents a kind of culinary watershed in whole grain baking, because she takes a dozen underused grains from amaranth to teff in entirely new directions. 

But Boyce, a former pastry chef at Spago and Campanile in Los Angeles, does not shy away from butter. Now I like butter, but in baking muffins, scones, pancakes and waffles steadily for about three weeks, I was eating a lot of the stuff. (Yes, it adds incomparable flavor to baked goods). I was also eating more sugar than I usually do, though Boyce relies on dark sweeteners like brown sugar and unsulphured molasses, though does not shy away from white sugar when needed. Here's the nutritional information for the rather large-size whole wheat chocolate chip cookie pictured above: 240 calories, 7 grams saturated fat. And yes, it tastes phenomenal.

Cookie So does this defeat one of the oft-stated purposes of whole grains, which is to boost the health quotient in your diet? As we know, whole grains add fiber, minerals, antioxidents and vitamins, most of which are lost in refined white flour.

I have two thoughts about this. Yes, the added saturated fat and sweeteners do reduce the health  of the baked good. On the other hand, they do end up higher on the health spectrum than a baked good made with white flour, butter and white sugar. And this is especially true of baked goods that you buy in the store, which I often find are far more loaded with sugar than these recipes

But, more importantly, consider the purpose of Boyce's exercise. She wasn't aiming to make a health cookie. As I wrote in the article, "Although purists might bristle at her use of white flour, butter and sugar, it's important to remember that Boyce is not aiming for low-fat and sugar-free. She is aiming for taste: a new kind of taste arising from these under-used grains." And that emphasis on taste may open the uninitiated to the flavors of these grains.

The bottom line -- these pastries are delicious, the kind of thing you'd make on the weekend or a special occasion. The carrot muffin would be a slam dunk on Mother's Day, for example. But there are healthier ways to get whole grains, through porridges and breads that  Boyce also dabbles with in the book. Another direction, try the risottos or salads or stews that Lorna Sass has in Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way. It also includes good basic information on cooking whole grains. 

I consume whole grains largely through breads, made with a mix of flours, water, salt and yeast or sourdough starter. But I often make barley risotto (high in soluble fiber) and usually have cooked whole grains in the refrigerator that can be easily added to a salad. I'm also starting to experiment with sprouted whole grains. And I'll be posting on a spelt pizza dough recipe so check back soon.

By the way, I was also thrilled that my friend Barry Estabrook (aka Politics of the Plate) was right next to me in the food section. He just won a well-deserved Beard Award for his story on slavery in Florida's tomato fields

- Samuel Fromartz

Chewy Tip: Fiber on the Cheap

Chews Wise welcoms Marci Harnischfeger, a graduate student in nutrition at New York University, as a contributor.

By Marci Harnischfeger

You might think nutritious foods are costly, but I say, nonsense. Nutritious foods can be cheap, you just have to know where to find them.

Take fiber for instance. Fiber's one of the first things to go when foods are manufactured, but it keeps our intestinal tracts healthy and helps lower cholesterol and maintain a healthy weight. It may even contain other beneficial nutrients that have yet to be discovered.

Most Americans do not come close to meeting their daily recommended 20-25 grams of fiber for women and 30-38 grams of fiber for men, though. Switching to whole grain versions of your favorite starches such as whole wheat bread and brown rice and getting five servings of fruits and vegetables per day are great ways to help meet your fiber needs.

Here's other cheap and easy ways to increase fiber in your diet:

Oatmeal. Perhaps you have seen all the claims. Add oatmeal to your diet and reduce your cholesterol. Well, for many this has been shown to be true. Unfortunately, though, lots of the oatmeal packets on the market tend to have added salt and sugars.

Suggestion: Try oatmeal in a container. You have probably seen it. Tucked away high on the shelf. Using plain rolled oats allows you to control what goes into your bowl. Did you know the preparation directions are the same? Just measure into a bowl, add water, and cook on the stove or microwave. After a few days, you will be able to eyeball the right amounts.

Pennies Saved: Oatmeal in a container is half the price per serving of oatmeal in a packet. If you go to a natural foods store that sells oatmeal in bulk, you'll save even more, by avoiding paying for packaging. Use that money to purchase an apple and chop half of it into the bowl before cooking. Add a dash of cinnamon and enjoy.

Beans: Cannelloni, pinto, black, kidney. Starchy beans are a great way to add fiber into your diet. Unfortunately, with dried beans, you need to plan ahead to soak and cook them. Further, most restaurant beans are loaded with added fats and sodium.

Suggestion: Canned beans. These nuggets are precooked and pack all the same health benefits as dry ones minus all the prep. Rinse your beans in a colander to remove the starchy build up our intestinal bacteria love to eat. This will also help reduce any sodium or other brining solution used during canning and, more importantly, should significantly reduce the gas factor. Throw them on top of ready-made salads, exchange them with meat in recipes, add them to your favorite whole wheat pasta dish, etc.

Pennies Saved: By exchanging beans for meat in a few recipes during the week, you can cut the cost by about two-thirds or more. Plus, canned beans are shelf stable, so they don’t spoil and can be ready to go any time.

Popcorn: Popcorn has roughly three to four times more fiber than potato chips. For people without dental problems or diverticulosis (an intestinal disorder), popcorn can be a satisfying, low calorie snack. Unfortunately, many microwave popcorn bags tend to be loaded with added fats and sodium.

Suggestion: Make your own microwave popcorn.

- Take a brown paper lunch sack and fill the bottom with one layer of popcorn kernels
- Add a drizzle of canola, olive, or vegetable oil (roughly 1 TBSP) and a shake or two of salt if desired
- Fold the top of the bag over twice to make a tight seal and leaving room for the kernals to pop
- Shake well
- Lay popcorn bag on its side in the microwave
- Set the timer for a short 1-2 minutes (if you smell popcorn, take the bag out to avoid burning)
- Open bag carefully to avoid the steam and enjoy.

Pennies Saved: Conventional microwave popcorn is about a buck a bag. Microwave popcorn using the method above costs about 10 cents.

Making these simple changes will not only boost your fiber intake, but allow you to use your ‘pennies saved’ to buy other nutritious foods, or organic versions of the products. You can even spend it on produce from your local farmer.

Remember: Make one change at a time to allow your body time to adjust to the fiber increase. And drink plenty of water to help flush everything through.