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The anatomy of a grain

grainanatomy

The seeds of certain plants such as wheat, corn and rice that are used for food are called grains. There is much confusion about what constitutes a whole grain, the benefits of whole grains and what foods routinely contain whole grains.

To better understand what constitutes a grain it is important to understand the anatomy of a grain.

Bran
A single grain kernel has a multi-layered, outer, edible coat or skin called the bran. The bran contains a variety of B-vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.

The Germ
Inside the kernel of grain is a small ‘embryo’ which has the potential to grow into a new plant. The germ contains B-vitamins, some protein, minerals and health fats.shutterstock_75767707

The Endosperm
The majority of the space inside a kernel of grain is made up of endosperm.  It is the largest portion of the kernel and is rich in starchy carbohydrates, contains some protein and small amounts of vitamins and minerals. The germ feeds off of the endosperm which can provide necessary energy should the seed sprout and grow roots.

Whole grains
According to the Whole Grain Council a whole grain contains “all the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions.” That is, a whole grain contains all of the bran, germ and endosperm.

If the grain has undergone any kind of processing such as cracking, crushing, rolling, extrusion or has been cooked the food “should deliver the same rich balance of nutrients found in the original grain seed” to be considered a whole grain.

Corn is an example of a whole grain as well as oats, wild rice, brown rice, barley, millet, quinoa, amaranth, wheat berries and others.

Whole grain stamp
Knowing when a food product contains whole grains can be tricky. Claims like natural grains, multi grain and more flood food packages. There is a quick way to ensure that the product you are buying is made from whole grains, and that is by locating the whole grain stamp on the product packaging.

StampCollage150dpiWhole grain stamps are yellow and have the shape of a postal stamp. There are two types of stamp: the basic and the 100% whole grain stamp.

If a product has at least eight grams of whole grain (half a serving) it can list the basic stamp on the package and list how many grams of whole grains it has. Even if a product has a large amount of whole grain, it will use the basic stamp if it also contains refined flour, extra bran or germ. If all of the grain ingredients of a food is whole grain, AND it has the minimum requirement of 16 grams of whole grains per serving (a full serving), then it will use the 100% stamp.

The stamps on the packaged food are an easy way to ensure that you are choosing a food with whole grains. You can of course always read the ingredient labels to make sure that they list whole grains such as whole wheat.

Happy shopping!

Cooking oils: What you need to know

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Some of the most frequent questions I get asked have to do with oils. “Which oil is the healthiest?” “Which oil should I use for cooking?” “Is coconut oil good for you?” These questions came up at the most recent grocery store tour I did this past weekend.

There are no straight answers to any of these questions. In some circumstances a very healthy oil is not one most chefs would use for cooking; and in some cases a good cooking oil is not one a dietitian would recommend for health.

Oils that are suited for cooking have to withstand high heat. Certain oils, when heated, undergo changes that render them unstable and therefore are not the best choices for cooking. For example, olive oil – which is recommended for good health since it contains unsaturated fats and has low levels of omega 6 fatty acids – is not well suited for frying.  Olive oil has a low smoking point, meaning it will start to smoke at a lower temperature than other oils. Olive oil is better used for dressings, marinades and baking. Conversely, palm oil, which is good for frying, scores low for health. So that’s the dilemma.

After reviewing many sources, searching the Internet and exploring nutrition and culinary references, I came across a chart that does a nice job presenting the dichotomy between culinary and health preferences. It includes information about the nuances of different oils such as the level of refinement, the presence of omega 3 and 6, and even includes some information about genetic modification. Continue Reading »

Staying Healthy During Flu Season

sneezingThe flu season is under way in Wisconsin and confirmed cases have been reported. While the best way to stay healthy this flu season is to get vaccinated, there are some other things you can do to protect yourself.

Here are a few:

1.  Practice good hand hygiene. Encourage everyone in your family to practice regular handwashing, especially after using the bathroom, before and after handling or eating food and after coming in from the outdoors. Handwashing is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to others.

2.  Take cover. Get into the habit of sneezing into your inner elbow. If you have a tissue, cover your nose and mouth with it when you sneeze or cough.

3.  Don’t touch. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth with your hands.

4.  Replace and wash items. Buy a new toothbrush after a cold or other illness. Wash your bedding at least once a week, especially pillow covers. Wash gloves, scarves and any other attire that covers your face or mouth. This is helpful in keeping germs away.

5.  Stay hydrated. Dry nasal passages make it easier for the flu virus to breed, so its important to drink plenty of fluids. Water is a natural moisturizer for the inside of your body. Aim for eight cups of water a day. Swap out fizzy carbonated drinks for herbal tea. Increase your fluid intake if you are on a high-fiber or high-protein diet. Continue Reading »

Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallot Soup

butternut squash soupBeing lactose intolerant I have to watch my consumption of dairy. As much as I like cream based soups, they don’t like me. So whenever I come across a smooth textured hearty soup that does not call for cream, I get a little excited.  This recipe caught my eye as it calls for an in-season ingredient (squash) and one of my other favorite ingredients, ginger.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large shallots, peeled and halved*
  • 1 (1/2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 2 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons (1-inch) slices fresh chives
  • Cracked black pepper (optional)

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a roasting pan or jelly-roll pan; toss well. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Cool 10 minutes.
  3. Place half of squash mixture and half of broth in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large saucepan. Repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture and broth. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Top with chives and pepper, if desired.

Yields six 2/3 cup servings.

Nutritional information per serving:
Calories:   112
Total fat:   2.5 grams
Saturated fat:   0.4 grams
Monounsaturated fat:   1.7 grams
Polyunsaturated fat:   0.3 grams
Protein:   3.3 grams
Carbohydrate:   22.4 grams
Fiber:   3.6 grams
Cholesterol:   0 mg
Sodium:   266 mg

*shallots: are similar to onions and garlic. They can be used like an onion, however grows in a bunch like garlic.  They have a milder taste than most onion

Recipe from: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/roasted-butternut-squash-shallot-soup-10000001854009/

Delicious (and Healthy!) Football Snacks

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/globevisions/

Winter marks the season for building snowmen, having snowball fights and Super Bowl parties, where friends and family get together to cheer on their favorite team. Along with the cheering, there is a lot of eating. However, there are many ways to enjoy tasty and healthy snacks as we watch our team move the ball down the field.

 

Think healthy fats.
Consider an assortment of nuts served alongside dried fruit such as apricots, dried pineapple, raisins, cherries, etc. Throw in some dark chocolate dipped nuts, too.

Display a variety of olives on a platter. Consider Greek Kalamata olives, Green Spanish olives, garlic stuffed olives, red pepper stuffed olives and the sort.

Add color to your snacks by making guacamole, or try something new like a Mexican layer dip, which incorporates layers of black beans (or refried beans), shredded low-fat cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes with green chilis, Greek plain yogurt or low-fat sour cream, chopped avocado (or guacamole). Serve with whole grain tortilla chips.

 

Include fruit.
A fruit salad is not only nutritious, but also tasty and easy to make. Combine apples, pears, pomegranates, watermelon, cantaloupe, mandarin oranges, pineapple, kiwis, or whatever fruit you prefer for a wonderful and colorful sweet snack.

Make a fruit pizza. Use low-fat vanilla yogurt for the sauce and arrange pieces of fruit on top of it on a low-fat pie crust. Sprinkle with unsweetened coconut flakes and enjoy!

Fruit kabobs can be a great hit as well, with fruit such as pineapple and nectarines caramelizing quite nicely when grilled.

 

Don’t forget the veggies.
Place a variety of colorful veggies such as orange baby carrots, white cauliflower florets, and green celery sticks on a platter. Serve with hummus, a chickpea dip.

Bruschetta can be a wonderful addition to any party. Slice up some tomato slices and place on top of pieces of grilled French bread that has been rubbed with garlic and topped with some olive oil. Next place a thin slice of fresh mozzarella cheese. Top with a fresh basil leaf for a wonderful appetizer, Italian style. You can also make a tomato salad with chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil, tossed in light vinaigrette and serve over grilled bread.

Salsa with whole grain tortilla chips is an all-time favorite.

Stuffed mushroom caps.

Kale crisps are unbelievably tasty. Simply remove the washed and dried kale leaves from their stem and tear into bite-size pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place on parchment paper and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

 

Serve protein like a pro.
Serve an assortment of meatballs with a variety of sauces. Use lean ground beef, or white breast ground turkey. Combine with cooked rice or Panko bread crumbs and add spices. For Italian meatballs, use oregano and serve with a tomato-base sauce; for Asian style meatballs, use ginger and sesame seeds or green onions and serve with teriyaki or soy sauce. Experiment with different spices to make your own creation.

Sliders are quite popular and can be made very easily. Once again, consider using ground turkey or lean ground beef. Serve on whole wheat flat bread for an interesting change.

Consider mixing avocado with shredded chicken and sautéed onions for a variation on the classic chicken salad. The avocado adds healthy fat to this traditional salad and allows you to cut down on the amount of mayonnaise used. Serve with whole wheat pita bread.

 

Don’t forget the beverages.
Smoothies can be a great hit at any party. Simply mix yogurt, a little bit of juice and fruit such as mango, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas, etc. for a healthy and refreshing drink. Kids will love this!

Have pitchers of fruit and vegetable infused water. Earlier in the day, wash and cut up lemon in slices and place in a pitcher full of water. Cover and let stand. You can also use cucumber slices. Do the same with orange slices.

Above all, remind your guests to drink responsibly if you plan to offer alcoholic drinks.

With some planning and creative thinking, you can enjoy delicious and healthy offerings at any Super Bowl party.

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