By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD
“Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”. Can you guess who said it? Not chef Mario Batali or even a Ronzino family member. The expression is from the mouth of actress Sofia Loren. And the movie star isn’t alone in her love affair; an Italian heritage doesn’t matter because pasta has become an American comfort food. We have spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, lasagna… the list goes on and on.
There’s only one grain competing with pasta for a place on your plate: Rice. Rice is no longer just a staple of Hispanic and Asian foods. Intake (mainly of white rice) has skyrocketed in the U.S. the past two decades. And between pasta and rice, I think that we as a nation have total grain tunnel vision.
The problem with all the white pasta and white rice is the processing leaves minimal nutrients or fiber. What are left over are easily digested carbohydrates and not a whole lot else – this is the reason why you might find yourself hungry and picking at the leftovers an hour later. I absolutely recommend you give brown rice and whole-wheat pasta a try. But this week, why not kick the pasta/rice tunnel vision all together? There are tons of other healthy, flavorful whole grains out there, and I challenge you to give one of these three a shot.
Barley: Might sound familiar because barley is the main ingredient used to make beer. But pre-malting and booze-ifying, barley is a healthy grain with a chewy, pasta-like consistency.
- Why it’s good for you: very high in fiber, selenium, phosphorus, and copper. Cholesterol lowering potential, regularity
- How to try it: barley risotto or in mushroom barley soup.
Quinoa: Don’t be hesitant to try it because you’re not sure of the pronunciation – it’s keen-wah (audio version here – now you have no excuse) and it’s technically a seed, not a grain, with a nutty flavor.
- Good for you: high in protein, folate, phosphorus, and manganese. Great for your heart health, and some evidence of benefits for those prone to migraines.
- How to try it: Try simple herbed quinoa or buy a quinoa pasta in place of your typical pasta. (Always rinse it before you cook it, because quinoa naturally has a soapy coating with a bitter flavor).
Amaranth: my current favorite, amaranth, is a teeny tiny grain that can be made sweet or salty.
- Why it’s good for you: triple the amount of fiber of wheat and lots of protein, iron, and calcium. Benefits include prevention and treatment of hypertension and heart problems, and increased immunity.
- How to try it: amaranth tabouli or breakfast amaranth with apples and almonds.
So are you up for the changing grains challenge? What are you going to try? Any other favorite grains? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Food and Cooking community.