Posted in Healthy Eating

Ancient Grain Alternatives For Everyday Meals - By Gretchen Scalpi RD, CDE

Gretchen Scalpi is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, author and Certified Wellcoach®. Gretchen has worked with hundreds of clients in her own private nutrition practice since 2002, providing nutrition and wellness coaching in the areas of diabetes, weight management, food sensitivities, and general wellness. Gretchen provides lectures and workshops on a variety of nutrition topics to corporate and community groups.  She is the author of the "The Everything Diabetes Cookbook, 2nd ed.," and "The Everything Guide to Managing and Reversing Prediabetes".  If you would like to learn more about Gretchen, or read her newsletter or blog visit http://www.nutritionxpert.com.

 

One of the easiest ways you can add interest to a meal and ramp up its nutritional value is by incorporating some of the ancient grain alternatives that are gaining in popularity.  The “ancient grains” I am referring to foods are used in the place of grain products that we are already very familiar with: wheat, rice, or corn.  They have been used for centuries in many cultures, but it has only been the last few years that they have made their way to our market shelves.  Typically one would have to go to a health food market to buy these items, but now I frequently see them in the health food aisle of most supermarkets.

 

The grain alternatives are not only gluten free; they are also diabetes friendly and perfect for people watching their weight.  Today, more people than ever are being diagnosed with diabetes or gluten intolerance such as celiac disease.  Both conditions require special attention to meal planning.  Including one or more of these grain alternatives adds a choice where other restrictions may apply.

 

Amaranth:  a broad-leafed plant which produces a tiny grain-like tan seed.  It has been used as a staple by many ancient cultures around the world.  Amaranth can be cooked in its whole form, and now you can find various products made from amaranth such as cold cereals or snack crackers.  Amaranth is also available as flour, and can be used in recipes which call for flour.

 

Quinoa:  Many people have already discovered the versatility of quinoa. Quinoa has been used by cultures in South America for hundreds of years, but today many varieties are grown in North America. Quinoa seeds have natural covering of saponin which is a bitter substance that protects the seed from insects and birds.  Quinoa usually needs to be rinsed with cold water and drained before cooking to remove the saponin.  Cook it like you would rice and it makes a healthful side dish.  Add it to chilled salads to for a more filling option that is full of fiber.

 

Millet: Most types of millet are used for animal or bird seed; however certain varieties are used for human consumption.  You can recognize the bird seed version of millet by the tiny, round seed found in many bird seed mixes.  The variety available for us looks similar: light yellow in color with a sweet, nutty flavor. Millet works as a side dish, and when used in its flour form adds a mild sweet flavor to baked foods.  

 

All three of these grain alternatives are actually seeds and not grains at all.  However, once prepared, their taste and physical properties are very similar to grains.  The nutritional value of amaranth, quinoa and millet include higher amounts of fiber and protein compared to wheat or rice.  All three provide a rich source of iron, magnesium, and B vitamins.

 

Grain alternatives can be cooked whole or ground into flour for baking purposes.  1 cup of grain alternative cooked with 1 ½ - 2 cups of liquid makes an easy side dish in about 20 minutes.  The grain alternatives can be used as a hot cereal, added to soups and stews, or mixed with beans, lentils or vegetables.  When ground into flour for baking, amaranth, quinoa or millet are best combined with other another flours.

 

There are some distinct advantages to using grain alternatives.   These tiny little seeds outshine the nutritional value of grains we usually eat.  Learning how to prepare them is really quite easy, and requires no more effort than making a side of rice.  Lastly, they offer something that many of us are looking for:  food that is nourishing, good tasting and satisfying.  The next time you are food shopping, consider picking up one of the grain alternatives for something different and healthful!

 

 

Gretchen Scalpi is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, author and Certified Wellcoach®. Gretchen has worked with hundreds of clients in her own private nutrition practice since 2002, providing nutrition and wellness coaching in the areas of diabetes, weight management, food sensitivities, and general wellness. Gretchen provides lectures and workshops on a variety of nutrition topics to corporate and community groups.  She is the author of the "Pre-Diabetes: Your Second Chance at Health," and "Quick Start Recipes for Healthy Meals".  To learn more about Gretchen, her books, or to subscribe her newsletter visit http://www.nutritionxpert.com/products.