Get Your Whole Grain Game On

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There’s something missing in your life: fiber. Up to 95% of us fall way short of the minimum recommended 25 grams a day. You’re probably skimping on whole grains, too, not hitting the recommend 3 to 4 servings a day. Now’s the perfect time to up your fiber game and up your whole grains, too. September is Whole Grains Month.

Intact and whole, grain comprises bran, endosperm, and germ. The bran and germ provide grain’s fiber and minerals while the endosperm contains the energy source—mostly carbs. Processing grains buffs away their bran and germ, and with them, up to a quarter of their protein and nutrients and almost all of their fiber.

Refined products like white bread and white pasta may be comfortably familiar, but why settle? For every refined grain product out there, there’s a whole grain equivalent. You deserve the whole grain deal, complete with complex carbs for good energy, a wealth of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, and fiber to balance blood sugar, lower cholesterol and make your microbiome happy. New studies in Lancet and Nutrients link increased whole grain consumption with longer, healthier life.

Whole grains can make that long, healthy life more delicious, too. Back in 2003 when the Whole Grains Council launched, whole grains were hard to find, or worse, hard to eat. The first wave of products were whole-hearted and earnest, but alas, tasted like twigs and bark. Fast forward to today, and whole grain products are more accessible, more popular and more palatable. Whole grains offer flavor that’s richer, nuttier, toastier and sweeter than refined grains. The pleasure’s in the texture, too. Discover the nubbly chewiness of larger grains like Kamut, spelt and barley, the bubble-like feel of tiny grains of quinoa and amaranth.

Whole grains are eager to please all by themselves but play well with others, too. Add chopped seasonal vegetables and herbs for a savory pilaf. Chopped fruits, nuts and cinnamon will reveal whole grain’s sweet side.

You can still get your grain game on even if you’re avoiding gluten. Most whole grains are naturally gluten-free, whether they’re familiar friends like corn and oats or ancient whole grains that may be new to you, like fonio and teff, two whole grain gifts from Africa.

Make the whole grain transition easy. Two words: overnight oats. Make it fancy — whole grain waffles. Your favorite brand is waiting for you in the freezer section (yesssssss!). Upgrade your panini by swapping out white bread for multigrain. Watching the game? Have some whole-grain pretzels or popcorn with that beer. That’s right, popcorn’s a whole grain, too.

The Whole Grains Council gives you a dozen more ways to dive in to the whole array of whole grains from amaranth to zizania (that’s wild rice). Not sure if your favorite product contains whole grains? Look for the whole grains stamp on the packaging. It’s a promise you’re getting at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving, well on your way to giving your body what it needs. Come to whole grains for the fiber and fitness, stay for the fun. Game on.

M’jeddrah

Taste how much flavor whole grains offer with m’jeddrah, this simple dish of brown rice and lentils. It’s beloved all over the Middle East, and why not? It’s soulful, satisfying, made with pantry staples, and it’s easy on the wallet.

The lentils and rice soak separately ahead of time but then cook together, taking on flavor and qualities greater than themselves. It’s traditionally topped with sautéed onions. Add a salad, and it makes a meal.

1 cup brown lentils
1 cup brown rice
4 cups water or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion or two small, sliced thin
1 teaspoon ground cumin
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
chopped cilantro to garnish

Pour lentils into a small bowl. Cover with cold water. Do the same with the rice, in a separate bowl. Leave ‘em to soak for 30 minutes at a minimum, for 2 hours, if you’ve got the time. The lentils and rice don’t need any fussing with, just let them sit.

Bring water or vegetable broth to boil into a large saucepan. Strain lentils into a sieve. Rinse in cold water. Add to broth. Do the same with the brown rice. Toss in bay leaf. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until lentils and rice are soft and fluffy and have soaked up all the liquid. Remove cover, remove from heat and set aside.

Just before serving, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced onion and cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, until onions start to soften and turn golden and fragrant.

Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring, another 10 minutes or so, until onions are brown and tender.

Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Stir lentils and rice together gently. Remove bay leaf and season generously with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and cumin.

Serve pilaf lavishly topped with onions and chopped cilantro.

Serves 6 to 8.

Look for Ellen this month at: 

the Florida Restaurant and Healthy Food Expo, September 15, Orlando, FL

and at Reducetarian Summit, September 28 and 29, Washington D.C.

Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.

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