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Going grain: How to work these superfoods into your diet

Monday, February 4, 2013

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Quinoa and kamut may sound like new and exotic foods, but they've been diet staples all over the world for centuries. Janet Anders, registered licensed dietitian at Fitness Plus, says most American diets are deficient in whole grains, but adding some of these "superfoods" to your diet will pack a powerful nutritional punch.

"Whole grains have been associated with protection against heart disease and cancer, and may help control diabetes," says Raina Childers, registered dietitian and nutrition services coordinator for HealthPoint Fitness. "Small servings pack an incredible nutrition 'punch.' Without much additional effort, these power foods can give the overall quality of your diet a significant step up."

Look for these foods in the health foods section of your grocery store or near the rice. Some stores keep these foods in giant bins so you can measure out whatever you like.

Quinoa

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Quinoa
This tiny grain contains many healthy phytochemicals, fiber and complete protein, says Childers.

"It's a complete protein, actually one of the only grains that's a complete protein," says Anders. "It's also a good source of dietary iron, which is unusual for a grain."

Quinoa is a lot like rice when it comes to kitchen use. It's a little bland, says Anders, but it's easy to pair with other flavorful foods. Anders likes this recipe for breakfast:

Cinnamon supergrain

Ingredients:

2 cups light soy milk (may use fat-free milk)

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup fresh blueberries or other fruit of your choice (Bonus: Blueberries are a superfood, too!)

Directions:

Bring milk to a boil in a saucepan. Add quinoa and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until three-quarters of the milk has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Stir in sugar and cinnamon. Cook, covered, until almost all the milk has been absorbed, about 6 minutes. Stir in blueberries. May serve with additional milk, sugar, cinnamon and blueberries if desired. Yields 2 cups.

Flaxseed

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Flaxseed
Flaxseed looks like tiny brown seeds, and it's an excellent source of omega 3s and fiber. Flaxseed also contains lignans, which provide protection for the GI tract and are associated with cancer prevention and heart health, says Childers. The good thing about flaxseed is that it's already found in many crackers, cereals and waffles, and it's fed to chickens laying omega 3-rich eggs.

If you're going to use flaxseed on your own, look for milled flaxseed, as it provides the full health benefits. Flaxseed can be added to salad dressing and used as a substitute for fat or eggs in a recipe, says Anders. For fat substitution, use a 3:1 ratio: 3 tablespoons milled flax to replace 1 tablespoon of butter, margarine, shortening or vegetable oil. For egg substitution, use 1 tablespoon of milled flax plus 3 tablespoons of water in place of one egg.

Kamut

Kamut is similar to rice, but it's bigger and has a yellowish color. Anders says this grain is high in protein and has a buttery taste.

Millet

This tiny yellow grain has a mild flavor. Toss some millet in with your soup or use it as a breakfast cereal.

Bulgur

This chewy-textured grain can be used in place of rice, added to soups or as a side dish on its own.

Barley

Barley is rich in fiber, iron and other minerals and is a good replacement for rice, says Childers. Make sure you buy the whole grain barley, not the pearl barley, which has removed the healthy outer husk.

Childers likes this recipe for a healthy lunch:

Chicken and barley salad

Ingredients:

12 ounces cooked skinless chicken breast, chopped

1 cup uncooked barley

3 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

2 cups seedless cucumber, cubed

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1/3 cup reduced-fat feta cheese

1/4 cup sliced black olives (can substitute kalamata)

Dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 Tablespoon minced fresh basil

1 Tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced

Directions:

Bring broth to boil in a large saucepan; add barley. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with fork, cool. Combine chicken, barley, cucumber and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine dressing ingredients together; stir well. Add to barley mixture; toss well. Cover and chill. Yields eight one-cup servings.

Oats

"This whole grain is rich in soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower cholesterol levels," says Childers. "It may come as hot oats, oat bran or a cold cereal made from oat bran."