Grains like wheat, rice, oats and corn are a staple in the American diet and for much of the world. Whole grains and foods made from them—which use the entire seed or kernel, including the germ, endosperm and outer bran shell—are an important source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. With refined grains like white flour and white rice, all the bran and most of the germ are removed during processing, and much of the fiber and nutrients are lost.
Eating more whole grains can help you lower cholesterol and control your weight, reducing risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems and cancer. Aim to eat at least three servings of whole grains each day. The earthy, nutty flavors and chewy textures are a great way to add a new dimension to your menu. Whole-grain breads, cereals, tortillas and crackers are just the beginning. Explore a variety of whole grains like whole wheat, oats, corn, barley and rye, brown or wild rice, groats, wheat berries, buckwheat, triticale, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa and sorghum. Use whole-grain versions of flour, rice and pasta when cooking your favorite meals or try one of these recipes.
Hopping aboard the grain train
Upping your intake of whole grains is easier than you think. Try some of these simple diet switches:
- Start your day with a bowl of bran flakes, shredded wheat or oatmeal.
- Buy whole-grain breads, bagels, rolls, tortillas, muffins, waffles and pancakes.
- Substitute rolled oats or crushed bran flakes for bread crumbs in recipes.
- Switch to whole-wheat pastas.
- Bypass the potatoes and try bulgur, barley, quinoa or brown or wild rice.
- Snack on popcorn or whole-wheat crackers or pretzels.
- Substitute barley or brown or wild rice for pasta or noodles in soups, stews, casseroles and salads.
- Use whole-wheat pastry flour in place of much of the all-purpose flour in recipes.
- ¾ cup uncooked rolled oatmeal
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons light margarine
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 16-ounce cans pitted tart cherries in water
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil spray. For topping, in a medium bowl, combine oatmeal and flour. Cut in margarine with a fork or pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Add ¼ cup sugar and brown sugar, stirring well. For filling, drain cherries, reserving juice. Set both aside. In a medium saucepan, combine remaining ingredients and cherry juice. Cook over medium-high heat until sauce is thick and clear, 3 to 4 minutes, whisking occasionally. Stir in cherries. Pour into baking pan and sprinkle with topping. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Serves 9.
Per serving: 188 calories, 1 g total fat (0 g saturated, 1 g polyunsaturated, 0 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 26 mg sodium, 43 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 2 g protein
Penne with vegetables and sun-dried tomatoes
- 4 cups water
- 16 ounces dried whole-wheat penne pasta
- 2 14.5-ounce cans low-sodium vegetable broth
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 12 medium asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 8 ounces broccoli rabe, cut into 1- inch pieces, or 12 additional medium asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons dry-packed sun-dried tomato bits
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup water (optional)
- 1¼ cups shredded part-skim mozzarella or Gouda cheese (smoked preferred)
- Black pepper (optional)
In a large, deep skillet, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the pasta. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the pasta into a colander and drain well. Put the broth and red-pepper flakes in the skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Return the pasta to the skillet. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the asparagus, broccoli rabe, sun-dried tomatoes, oil and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the pasta and vegetables are tender and most of the sauce is absorbed. Add ¼ cup water if the broth is absorbed before pasta is tender. To serve, put the pasta mixture on plates. Sprinkle with the cheese and pepper. Serves 4.
Per serving: 559 calories, 10.5 g total fat (4.5 g saturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated, 4.5 g monounsaturated), 20 mg cholesterol, 371 mg sodium, 93 g carbohydrates, 11 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 30 g protein
Ham and rice salad
- 1 cup uncooked brown or long-grain rice
- 1 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
- 6 ounces low-fat, low-sodium ham, all visible fat discarded, cut into ¼-inch cubes
- 1 cup fresh or frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed if frozen
- 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
- 4 green onions (green and white parts), thinly sliced
- 1 medium red, yellow or green pepper, finely chopped
- 4 to 5 radishes, finely chopped
- ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh dillweed or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
- ½ cup fat-free or light Italian salad dressing
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 small head lettuce (red leaf preferred)
- Fresh mint or parsley sprigs
Prepare the rice using the package instructions, substituting broth for 1 cup of the liquid and omitting the salt. Let cool. In a large bowl, combine the rice with the remaining ham salad ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the salad dressing and mustard. Pour the dressing into the rice and ham mixture, stirring to coat. Cover and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Place a scoop of salad on a bed of lettuce and top with the mint. Serves 8.
Per serving: 160 calories, 2 g total fat (0.5 g saturated, 0.5 g poly-unsaturated, 0.5 g monounsaturated), 10 mg cholesterol, 435 mg sodium, 28 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 8 g protein
Chicken tabbouleh with fresh mint
- 1 ½ cups water
- 5.25-ounce package tabbouleh wheat (bulgur) salad
- 9-ounce package frozen diced cooked skinless chicken breasts, thawed
- 1 large tomato, seeded if desired, and diced
- ½ medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
- ½ small onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup snipped fresh parsley
- ½ cup chopped fresh mint
- 1 ounce feta cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and basil, crumbled
- ¼ cup cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- 4 cups mixed baby salad greens
In a large bowl, stir together the water and wheat salad mix. Let stand for 30 to 40 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Add the remaining ingredients except the salad greens. Toss gently. To serve, arrange the salad greens on each plate. Spoon about 1 ½ cups wheat mixture on each plate. Serves 4.
Per serving: 313 calories, 10 g total fat (2 g saturated, 1 g polyunsaturated, 5.5 g monounsaturated), 39 mg cholesterol, 735 mg sodium, 36 g carbohydrates, 9 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 23 g protein
Recipes reprinted with permission from The New American Heart Association’s Cookbook, 25th anniversary edition, Copyright © 2001; Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook, Copyright © 2004 and One-Dish Meals Cookbook, Copyright © 2003. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc. Available from booksellers everywhere.