EATING LOCAL - Other grains, seeds ease going wheatless during spring detox

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I recently wrote an article for the Union-Bulletin's Lifestyles magazine, sharing the appeal and steps of a spring detox diet. At the end of the article (issuu.com/wwunionbulletin/docs/2012_03_march_lifestyles), I thought it would be helpful to offer to my readers a step by step guide by doing the detox myself for a month and writing about it on my blog.

It sounded great on paper, but what it really meant was actually having to do the detox. I began last week, cutting out dairy, meat, sugar, caffeine, wheat and any white refined foods.

We've been eating a lot of veggies, beans and grains, and drinking almond milk. Of course, I miss the butter, milk and coffee, but missing the wheat is the biggest surprise. I realize we have become so dependent on wheat and I crave it in it's many forms.

With having to replace wheat, I've been reminded the glories of other grains. Each having it's own unique flavor and texture, they can be used in more than bread. I've been making grain salads for lunch, with fresh chopped peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, other veggies and fresh herbs. To replace our morning bowl of cereal, we've been making flourless oat pancakes, hot spelt porridge and oatmeal with dry fruit.

More and more we hear about folks with gluten allergies. I could venture to guess that the overuse of wheat in our culture has brought this on, but who can say? Those with wheat allergies or an intolerance could benefit from some non-wheat ideas, as could those of us who realize we'd like to eat more of a variety of foods.

Every food has a different nutritional profile, so eating a variety of foods not only makes for an interesting life, but also provides the body with an assortment of the essential nutrients for optimal health.

Following are a few different interesting grains you may or may not be familiar with. All are gluten-free except for spelt, which many people with wheat allergies can tolerate. As I've mentioned before, it is ideal to soak your grains before cooking to reduce the phytic acid that inhibits mineral absorption. A couple hours is better than nothing, but 4-8 hours is ideal. I just put my grains in a mason jar on the counter the night before. As Jamie Oliver would say, "easy peasy."

Oats - In their whole form they are called oat groats. They can be cooked whole and added to vegetable or green salads. High in protein, a half cup can contribute nearly a quarter of your daily requirement. Steel cut oats are the groat cut into small pieces. These make a nice oatmeal or soaked and ground for pancakes. Oat flakes are what we call rolled oats. Not only is it delicious as a breakfast hot cereal, it makes lovely granola, mixed with melted butter, honey and nuts and baked until crisp. I like to boost the nutrition in baked goods by adding oats to cookies, muffins, bread and in meatloaf, instead of bread. Oat flour is a wonderful substitute for wheat in many baked goods. But because it does not contain gluten, it will not bind like wheat, making for a crumbly product.

Spelt - Its whole form is called either spelt or farro. As with oat groats, spelt makes a nice addition to salads. A nice combination is spelt, Belgian endive, tangerine and goat cheese. Or roasted vegetables with spelt, wilted spinach and pine nuts. Spelt flakes make a nice addition to a pot of oatmeal, or use like you would normally with oats. Spelt flour replaces wheat flour beautifully in all recipes because it does contain gluten.

Quinoa - It's not actually a grain, but a seed and most often used in its whole form. Because it has a balance of all the essential amino acids, it is a complete protein. Before cooking, rinse with water to remove the naturally occuring saponins, which give a bitter taste. The quick cooking time makes this whole grain an ally for last minute dinners. Use as you would with rice, in salads, as a pilaf or a simple side dish.

Amaranth - Like quinoa, amaranth is a seed rather than a true grain. And like quinoa, it is most often used in whole form. It is packed with iron and calicium and has triple the fiber of wheat. It is also easy to digest, making it beneficial for those recovering from illness or transitioning from a fast. Use as you would rice.

Millet - Most often used in its whole form, millet is a nice addition to any diet. It's mild, almost nutty flavor goes well in salads, in baked goods and as a stand-in for rice. I like to toast it briefly before cooking to retain its form and bring out the nuttiness. It also makes a great porridge.

Buckwheat - Whole buckwheat is called buckwheat groats. Toasted groats are called kasha, commonly used in Russian cooking. Either toasted or not, buckwheat groats make a nice addition to salads or mixed with seasonal veggies for a hearty meal. Buckwheat flour can be used for pancakes, used together with other grains for bread or made into a Japanese pasta called soba. Buckwheat is high in rutin, a flavonoid that protects against disease by strengthening capillaries and preventing blood clots.

No matter the reason, including non-wheat grains into your diet is good idea. For fun or for health, cooking an assortment of grains breaks up the monotony of your everyday diet. I'm glad I did.

Melissa Davis, a local chef with a bachelor's degree in nutrition. She can be reached at jadenluna@gmail.com. More of her writing is at www.melissadavisfood.wordpress.com.

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