Benefits of Whole Grains

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably overwhelmed with information and choices about what to put into your body. There is a lot to consider from nutritional benefits, to taste, to cost and to the effects it will have on your body.

Then there are those fad diets and extreme diets urging you to eliminate foods from your diet, not just harmful foods but nutritious foods. How does that make any sense? I’ve successfully lost more than 20 pounds and have kept it off for a year by simply eliminating foods that are harmful to me  (refined sugars, processed foods, coffee, wheat and dairy).  But that’s me 🙂 You have to find what works for you. I’m hoping that some of this information will help take some of the guesswork out of choosing healthy grains and alternatives to wheat.

So let’s jump in!

What is a whole grain?

According to WebMD, “A whole grain contains all edible parts of the grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. The whole grain may be used intact or recombined, as long as all components are present in natural proportions.”

A grain is considered whole when it is comprised of 3 parts: Bran, Germ and Endosperm.

According to HealthCastle.com, “…whole grains are a good source of B vitamins, Vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber, as well as other valuable antioxidants not found in some fruits and vegetables. Most of the antioxidants and vitaminsare found in the germ and the bran of a grain.”

Wheatfreefood.com illustrates this best:

“To visualize a whole grain’s structure, think of an egg. The bran in a whole grain is akin to the shell of an egg, it is the protective outer coat. The germ is within the bran similar to the white of an egg. And the endosperm is the innermost part of a whole grain much like a yolk sits in an egg.”

So, what’s the difference between WHOLE grains and REFINED grains?

“Refined grains have their bran, germ, and most of the vitamins and nutrients removed during processing. The only part that remains is the starchy endosperm. This is why refined grains have more of an impact on raising blood sugar levels and thus have a higher glycemic index. Whole grains as mentioned earlier, contain the endosperm but also contain the germ and the bran. The bran provides abundant fiber which helps with satiety and slows down absorption keeping blood sugar levels happy, making whole grains a very good source of nutrition.”

Other reasons they are FANTASMIC?

Because whole grains are high in fiber, they aid in the following:

  • Lowering risk of heart disease by decreasing cholesterol levels, blood sugar and blood coagulation.
  • Helping to regulate blood glucose (especially those with diabetes)
  • Contributing to weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.  Some studies have also shown that people who consume more whole grains consistently weigh less than those who consumed less whole grain products.

It is recommended that women get at least 25g of fiber a day and men should get at least 35g of fiber a day. This shouldn’t be too hard to achieve since each serving of whole grains yield from 1 to 4 g of fiber per serving, comparable to fruit and vegetables. If you have balanced meals and snacks throughout the day, it should be manageable.

What are the options?

  •     Whole oats/oatmeal
  •     Popcorn
  •     Brown rice
  •     Whole rye
  •     Whole-grain barley
  •     Wild rice
  •     Buckwheat
  •     Triticale
  •     Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  •     Millet
  •     Quinoa
  •     Sorghum
  •     100% whole wheat flour

How do we incorporate into our diet?

Choose whole-grain breads (like Ezekiel), cereals, bagels and crackers.  Be sure to read the ingredients on the package to ensure that there is very little sugar, in fact, there shouldn’t be any sugar in the mix if it’s whole grain. And make sure that all the ingredients are from REAL food – nothing you don’t understand or cannot pronounce. The simpler, the better!

Here are some quick suggestions:

  • Sandwiches with whole grain breads (like Ezekiel).
  • Whole oats in the morning
  • Snacks including whole grain crackers or make your own trail mix with whole oats
  • Use rice and quinoa when making your meals, rather than white rice or white pasta

So readers, I’d love to hear from you: How will you incorporate whole grains into your diet?

Stay tuned for a few recipes involving whole grain rice and quinoa!

Recipe: Rice Pasta with Goat Cheese and Broccoli

The final Product!

One of the things that I had time giving up, and this may sound disgusting to some, was the Canadian classic, Kraft Dinner. Even just talking about it makes me want to bust open a pack of KD and throw in some butter, some whole milk and then, after it’s been cooked and that powdery “cheese” goodness has been lovingly mixed in with those enriched yet bleached wheat noodles, I’d drench it in ketchup (and maybe add some hot dogs to it).

Now that I know better – that sounds like a recipe for disaster – even though my stomach is growling at the thought.

I’ve had to come up with other creative ways to include my love for pasta and my love for gooey cheese in a nutritious dish.

This, my friends, has become an oldy but a goody!

NOTE: If you don’t like broccoli, I won’t hold it against it you. You can always substitute it for spinach or even roasted green or red peppers or even zucchini – actually, any veggie that you think would be delicious. But I wanted to keep this somewhat simple, so I went with broccoli.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of brown rice pasta (spirals, penne, whatever you prefer, just not spaghetti – doesn’t bode well).
  • 1/2 head of broccoli
  • 1/2 of a large portabello mushroom or 3 baby bellas – chopped
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes
  • 1/3 large red onion – finely chopped
  • 1 cup of goat mozerella cheese – shredded
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp of black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp of sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp of coriander
  • 1/2 tsp of chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp of 0regano
  • Garlic (2 cloves, minced)

Method:

Boil water and cook the rice pasta. TIP: Add a table spoon of olive oil to the water so that the pasta doesn’t stick together.

While the pasta is cooking, steam the broccoli (should take about 10 to 20 minutes, but keep an eye on it). When it’s tender, it’s ready!

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.

In the meantime, in a medium frying pan, heat 1 table spoon of olive oil and add your spices. Let them simmer for about a minute or until fragrant. Then add your onions and stir until they become soft.

Then add the mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and garlic. Let this simmer for about 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Layer so that the rice pasta goes in first, then the veggies, then the cheese.

When the pasta has finished cooking, drain it and add it to the frying pan. Same goes with the broccoli. TIP: Once the broccoli florets have been steamed, cut them into smaller pieces or in half.

Mix all ingredients together. Let the flavour soak in for a couple minutes then transfer to a medium sized baking dish. Add the shredded goat mozerrella cheese on top and bake for about 10 minutes or until cheese starts bubbling.

Remove from oven and let cool for  a few minutes before serving.

Serves between 2 and 3.  Serve with some chicken or fish and salad or on it’s own – why not?

Cook time: 30 to 40 mins

Enjoy!

Alternatives To Wheat

Be honest…does looking at this painting make you nervous?

VAN GOGH - WHEAT FIELD WITH CYPRESSES

If you’re anything like me and eating wheat is taxing on your body, please know that you may not have to give up foods that you enjoy! Nowadays, with food allergies becoming more prevalent in our Western society, there are more and more alternatives to wheat: brown rice pasta, spelt, quinoa, many varieties of rice, buckwheat and many more.  But even if you’re fine with wheat you need to be aware of the difference between whole wheat and whole grains.

Whole Wheat tends to be a clever marketing gimmick to entice consumers to purchase their bread products. The wheat is still highly processed and stripped of the germ, the bran, and majority of fibers, vitamins, and minerals. Whole Grains still have maintained their nutrients (you should see the seeds and grains in the actual bread). One brand that I love, and they make sprouted grains (a more natural occuring form of seeds and much easier to digest) is Ezekiel. This can be found in your frozen food section in your grocery store.

How do you know if you have developed a sensitivity to wheat?

Symptoms of food intolerance include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Gas, cramps, or bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or nervousness

What’s the big deal?

By continuing to consume foods that you are sensitive to, not only do you suffer some of these symptoms (how fun is that?) but your body will become inflamed and you will have trouble losing weight and over a long period of time, you could develop some serious health complications.

This is a great article that explains why inflamtion is your worst enemy.

The Solution.

You can avoid inflamation by eating foods that are clean and non-toxic (no preservatives, no sugar) and avoid foods that are harmful to your immune system – that means pinpointing foods that trigger reactions and eliminating them and avoiding other foods that contribute to the breakdown of your boday.

Please note that I’m not saying that wheat is terrible – what I am saying is that if you notice your body reacting negatively when you consume wheat, please do not ignore it! If you don’t notice any reaction, then nevermind 🙂

For those that cannot consume wheat, stay tuned for some recipes to help inspire your cooking!

Detox: Always seems like a good idea at the time….

Well, I wish I had a good excuse for why I’ve been MIA the past couple of months, but I don’t. The holiday season was pretty crazy for me and my work load exploded. So between working lots and a full social calendar, I didn’t have much time to cook let alone blog. Then after Christmas, I had a few personal things to deal with and now, I’m back on track!

Since my eating habits needed a lot of fine tuning after one too many pizza nights and pitchers of beer, I recruited a friend of mine to do a detox diet with me for the next few weeks. What that means is: no dairy, no wheat, no refined sugar, no caffeine, no booze, and no smoking – basically, no junk!

It’s day 2 and I have to admit, it’s pretty tough so far. Temptations are everywhere! I was walking home from work tonight, starving, and I saw a massive poster for a large pizza for only $5. You have no idea how tempting that was. Or maybe you do. But I stayed focused and realized that quitting on day 2 is pretty lame, even for someone as inconsistent as me.

The secret of doing these kinds of diets is to plan ahead and make sure that you have enough of the right food on hand so that you don’t blow your diet and order a pizza (like I almost did) because you’re way too starving to even open the fridge. I’ve been there – it’s riduculous.

It’s amazing, too, how when you “deprive” yourself of certain things, it seems like that’s when you want it most. Today, for instance, was my first day back at work after four glorious days off and my eyes didn’t stop burning for one minute the entire day. Nope, not one single minute. All I wanted was a nice cup of chai tea or even a small cup of coffee to get the motor going but I’m not allowed. I ended up just sitting, staring blankly at my computer screen and imagining how delicious and satisfying a cup of coffee would be. Out of sheer will, I snapped out of it and got a cup of green tea and some water instead.  It only took about 5 cups of green tea before I sort of felt like myself again and by then, it was 4:30pm; almost time to go home. I think tomorrow will be better. It`s got to be. I’ve done these detox diets before and I always find that the first days are the hardest (mostly mentally).

For me, the hardest things to give up are drinking alcohol and dairy. To get through, I usually make a deal with myself that at the end of my detox, I’ll treat myself to a nice glass of red wine and some goat’s milk ice cream. Not both at the same time.

Anyways, today was pretty easy – for breakfast I had 2 eggs and some soy milk blended with strawberries; for lunch I had a MASSIVE spinach salad and for dinner, I had a delicious stir fry. I sent pictures to my friends who’s doing the detox with me and he was pretty jealous so I promised him that I’d blog about it. You’re welcome!

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsps Olive Oil
  • 1/4 tsp Thyme
  • 1/4 tsp (or to taste) Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/4 Black Pepper
  • 1/3 Turmeric
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 lime
  • 2 cloves of garlic choped
  • 3 chicken skinless/boneless chicken thighs (breast would work too, that just sounds wrong)
  • Bean Sprouts (a handful)
  • 1/2 a tomato, diced
  • Spinach (a handful)
  • 1/2 a Red Bell Pepper (chopped)
  • 1/2 a Floret of Broccoli
  • 1 cup of brown rice pasta or 2 servings of brown rice

Method:

In a large frying pan or skillet, pour about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and let it heat up. Once it’s heated, add the spices and stir them around so that they mix in with the oil.

Boil the water and cook the rice pasta or rice as directed.

Once the spices have heated up and are fragrant, add the diced onion. Stir it in the spiced oil and lit it simmer. Add the garlic and the diced tomato and stir. Let it cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, until the onions become translucent. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and the lime and pour it in the pan.  Add the diced chicken and let it cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the broccoli and the red bell pepper. Stir all the ingredients together and make sure that the chicken pieces are cooked on both sides.

When the chicken looks like it’s mostly cooked (should be brown and nearly crispy on the outside with no visible raw skin showing), add the sprouts and the  spinach and stir, mixing all the ingredients. The stir fry is done when the spinach and sprouts are limp and have mixed in with the other ingredients.

When the rice pasta or rice is finished cooking, add to the pan and stir.

This should serve 2 but I like to put some aside for lunch the next day.

Enjoy!

Baked Salmon and Veggie Stir fry

Day two! Seriously, there is nothing better than waking up and realizing that your lunch is already made. Actually, the next best thing  is waking up and realizing that it’s Saturday.

I was so tired this morning that it took me at least 3 minutes to figure out where I was and what day it was. That’s normal, right? But after a couple of cups of tea, I’m feeling more energetic and able to keep up a conversation without struggling, well..sort of.

Is it lunch time, yet? Home time? It’s only Tuesday, right?

Last night, I had a tonne of errands to run, since I was so lazy on Sunday and needed to make something quick. I realized that I had some salmon to clean up so I decided to make baked salmon in a bit of lemon juice with spices and then a veggie stir fry and all over some rice noodles. I was going to make some brown rice, but I dropped the ball and thought of it a bit too late – so noodles it was!

Here’s how to make it:

Ingredients for the salmon

  • 1 Salmon fillet
  • The juice of 1 lemon or ¼ cup of lemon juice
  • ¼ cup of water ¼ tsp of thyme
  • ¼ tsp of chilli flakes ¼ tsp of black pepper
  • ¼ tsp mustard powder

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
  2. Put the salmon fillet in a baking dish and pour the water and lemon juice in the base of the dish.
  3. Sprinkle the spices on top of the fish. Place in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes.

Ingredients for the stir fry:

The beauty of stir fries, is that you can seriously make them with any combination of your favourite veggies and spices. Be careful of sauces as they often contain extra sodium and sugar and preservatives which totally defeats the purpose of making a healthy stir fry in the first place!

  • 1 red bell pepper (chopped into strips)
  • ½ head of steamed broccoli (chopped)
  • ½ peeled and chopped carrot ¼ of an onion (chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic (chopped) 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika 2 tbsp of olive oil 2 tbsp of soy sauce or I recommend Liquid Aminos
  • 1 cup of rice or any rice noodle that you prefer

Method:

  1. Prepare the rice or noodles as directed and steam the broccoli.
  2. While that is cooking, heat the oil in medium or large frying pan (whatever you prefer).
  3. Once the oil has heated, add the black pepper and parika. Stir the spices in with the oil until fragrant. Add the onions and stir until they are soft then add the garlic.
  4. After a few minutes, add the red peppers and stir, then add the carrots and the broccoli (after it has been steamed).
  5. Stir in the soy sauce or liquid aminos and let simmer.
  6. When everything is ready, cut up the salmon and place veggies over the rice and serve.

Serves about 2 people.

Enjoy!

Chickpea Coconut Curry

Well, I have been slacking this week. There really isn’t any valid excuse that I can give other than I have been taking a lot more time for myself these days and honestly, I’m loving it! In January, I’ll be starting my courses at Humber to be a project manager and between that, work and my Toastmaster responsibilities, I’ll be busy. Better to enjoy some down time now!

As today is Monday, I’d like to begin, or rather, re-begin (is that a word?) my “lunch a day” for a month challenge.

Today, my leftovers were chickpea coconut curry. YUM! It was Sunday evening, I had no desire or motivation to go the store so I scrounged up whatever I had in my cupboards and fridge and I came up with this little number.

Ingredients:

  • 2 small potatoes (finely chopped)
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 ½ large tomatoes (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 an onion (minced)
  • ½ can of chickpeas
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • ¼ tsp of black pepper
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp tsp thyme
  • ½ tsp curry powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • Chilli flakes to taste
  • ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 tbsp of grape seed or olive oil or coconut oil (I used grape seed

This looks like a lot of ingredients, but it was SO easy to make!

Method:

  1. Cook the quinoa as directed.
  2. In a large sauce pan, pour the oil in and let it heat up. Then, add the onions and cook until they are soft. Add the black pepper, chilli flakes, coriander and thyme. Cook for a couple of minutes (until fragrant). Add the garlic and stir.
  3. Once this has simmered, add the potatoes and ¼ of the can of coconut milk and stir until simmering. Then, add the curry powder, garam masala and turmeric and stir. Let it simmer and add the other ¼ of the can of coconut milk. Cover and let simmer for a few minutes.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, the chicpeas and the other ¼ can of coconut milk. Let simmer for about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir the pot and add the quinoa and the rest of the coconut milk. Stir again and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

This may look kind of weird, but it was absolutely delicious and tastes even more amazing the next day.

If I could, I would have added spinach to this, but I ran out so I had to do without.  Shredded carrots would also be amazing in this too – or any other veggie that you love and cannot live without. I find that by layering the ingredients, you get a fuller flavour and a more cohesive sauce/curry.  If you don’t have quinoa, you could always skip the step and serve over brown rice.

Let me know what you think and share with me any variations that you may have tried.

Enjoy!

Back to Tuna

Today was one of those glorious fall days where it was warm enough to not see your breath but cool enough to have wear cozy layers. If I didn’t have to go to work today, it would have been glorious day to be curled up on my couch with a nice, hot cup of tea and a good book!

I had a few errands to run today after work and ever the multi-tasker, I thought it would be wise to get all of my shopping done before heading home. Did I mention they were calling for a rain storm this evening? I had to go to the dollar store and buy enough plates, cups, napkins and cutlery for 100 people (my Toastmasters club is hosting the Division contest tomorrow!) and then I needed a few things at the grocery store. I was on my way home, when I realized that I had to pick up a parcel from the drug store’s post office. So, in the cold rain, I have a massively awkward box under one arm and in the other, my purse, lunch bag and a huge plastic bag from the Dollar Store. Sometimes I daydream that a devestatingly handsome man will offer to carry my bags home for me. But instead, I get dirty looks from oncoming pedestrians as I take up half the width of the sidewalk because the box that I’m desperately clinging to is large and in charge.

By the time I made it in – I was drenched, hungry and miserable! I knew just the thing to make for dinner…an oldy but a goody… You may know her as Tuna Casserole.

Having fish for dinner tonight really tied in well with my nerdy, internal debate: Flax or Fish oil: Which one is more beneficial? Yes, these are the thoughts that occupy my mind. Scary? Sad? I can’t think of another “s” word so I will end it there. My good friend, who works for an Omega-3 company, informed me that though flax has ALA, which is needed to help convert the omega 3, it has a lower level of DHA and EPA than fish oil. BUT flax has other benefits like fibre and magnesium and aids in the absorption of calcium. BUT the whole point in me taking these oils was to get more Omega 3, so once I’ve finished this flax bottle, it’ll be back to ole fishy oil. UNLESS, I take Omega 3-6-9 capsules and the flax oil to help with the absorption… SEE?! Not straightforward. Or is it?

Back to Tuna.

One thing about me is that, when I’m hungry and tired, I don’t often make the best decisions…

Here is an example:

That’s 2 cups of shell pasta in the smallest pot I own. WHY? I do own other, larger, more useful pots. It all turned out for the best, though, but seriously…seriously.

Back to Tuna.

Here’s how to make the casserole that saved my sanity!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 tsp of oregano, chilli powder, paprika, salt, pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of corriander
  • 2-3 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion (cooking or red)
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/2 peeled zucchini, chopped
  • 1 cup (packed) spinach
  • 1 can of flaked tuna (packed in water, not oil)
  • 2 cups of brown rice pasta
  • goat’s cheese (cheddar or mozerella), grated
  • sundried tomatoes, chopped

Method:

1. Pre-heat oven to 350f. Then, in  a large pan or skillet, pour the oil until heated. Then add the spices and stir until fragrant. (about 3 minutes). While this is heating, start to boil water for the rice pasta and prepare this on the side. See the above photo! But please, use a larger pot.

2. Add the onions and cook until they start to become transparent.

3. Add the diced tomatoes. Stir in with the onions and spices. Let the tomatoes simmer until they start to become juicy. About 3 minutes.

4. Add the zucchini and stir it in with the tomatoes, spices and onion. After about 3 more minutes, add the spinach and stir in gradually. It will look like this… but as the heat and juices rise up, the spinach with shrink and it will be easier to stir it in. I PROMISE! But you have to be patient!

5. Once the veggies are stirred and the pasta is cooked, you can then add the following to a medium-sized casserole dish: Layer : pasta, tuna, veggies, sundried tomatoes, grated cheese.

6. Bake at 350f for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

The end result should look something like this!

Serve as is or with a side of your choice. This would go well with a salad or even a creamy soup (like cauliflower or something seasonal like butternut squash or sweet potato). This also would have been amazing with a nice glass of merlot…but my hands were way too full to carry anything else home. This weekend, I’ll be sure to stock up!

Serves 2-3.

Total time: 45 minutes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook Time:
Rice Pasta: 20 minutes
Casserole: 10-15 minutes

Enjoy!