Incorporating More Grains into Your Diet: Quinoa, Sorghum, and More

Quinoa Cake with Mini Crab Cakes

Whole grains are part of a healthy diet, and part of a DASH Diet eating plan. They can provide fiber, which can lower cholesterol and blood lipids (fats). Fiber also helps keep you full longer and helps with blood sugar regulation. Grains can provide important antioxidants and phytochemicals (active compounds of plants that have health benefits) too.

Many people thing about wheat, oats, and rye when they consider whole grains, but there are many to choose from. Here’s a quick list of easy to cook whole grains that you can use any day of the week:

  • Barley – look for whole (not pearled) for most fiber.
  • Bulgar – a wheat grain
  • Corn – yep, corn is considered a grain, not a “less-than-steller-side-dish”. Corn provides us with tortillas, popcorn, grits, corn on the cob and polenta – all high in fiber!
  • Farro – an ancient strain of wheat, often used in soups in Italy.
  • Freekah – also an ancient grain – a wheat product, great for pilaf.
  • Oats – great for breakfast! Use quick, regular, or steel-cut depending on your time. Texture and flavor difference, but even quick oats offer great fiber and health benefits.
  • Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa – a running joke with my husband)
  • Sorghum – start looking for this grain to be more and more available in stores near you
  • Wild Rice – a nice option to plain rice. You can mix it with other grains, or add it to soups. Add cooked rice to green salads for variety too.

Have you tried Sorghum?

I’ve been seeing (and tasting) this grain at my food and nutrition conference (FNCE®) for the past two years, but I haven’t cooked with it at home and haven’t seen it widely available in my area. 2017 is the year to change that! What is sorghum? An easy and delicious grain to prepare as a side dish! You can even pop it (and it turns out like mini “popcorn” but without the kernels that get stuck in your teeth).

Sorghum is a cereal grain, and in America has mostly been used in livestock feed, and as a sweetener (syrup). In Africa and Asia it’s used as a food source. The US is now offering it in “grain” form for consumption for it’s natural gluten-free properties. Unlike couscous or pasta for instance, sorghum is naturally gluten free and can be used by folks with Celiac Disease as an optional side dish.

On top of its gluten-free claim, some research shows other potential benefits:

Quinoa – A Great Plant Protein

Quinoa is a high protein grain. It’s versatile and easy to cook with. You can throw together a quinoa side dish in less than 15 minutes! Who doesn’t love that on a weeknight? Quinoa provides nine essential amino acids – often not a common plant property. While I include it here as a grain, it’s actually not a cereal grain, as it’s botanically related to swiss chard and beets! The seed heads of the plant are what are cultivated into quinoa, and cooked like traditional grains. Quinoa is also gluten-free.

Try something new in the coming year.

Easy Quinoa Cakes

2 cups cooked quinoa, (cook per package, set at room temperature)
3 large eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 TB chopped chives
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2-3 TB grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup whole grain bread crumbs (more as needed)

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
  2. Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bow, mix to combine.
  3. Add ingredients through garlic.
  4. Add the bread crumbs and combine well.
  5. Form into small balls, about 2 inches in diameter. If mixture is too wet, add bread crumbs. If too dry, add a bit of water.
  6. Place each ball onto a cookie sheet sprayed with olive oil spray. Pat down into “cake” (disc)
  7. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. (you can also pan-fry them in olive oil, flipping once)

You can serve these as an appetizer or as a side. You can add a variety of herbs (fresh thyme or dill) or other vegetables (chopped mushrooms, minced peppers – sautéed ahead) to them as well.

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