Top: Bean purée topped with grilled vegetables and aged balsamic, as a starter or vegetarian main (photo courtesy Chef Eric LeVine). Center: Try poached or fried eggs on a bed of beans or lentils; here, kidney beans and diced sweet potato (photo courtesy U.S. Dry Bean Council). Bottom: Ham with black-eyed peas and collards (photo courtesy Good Eggs | SF).
Head to any fine-casual dining spot and the menu is sure to include quinoa, other whole grains (barley, buckwheat, bulgur, farrow) and often, bean and lentil dishes.
While consumers increasingly respond to these healthful alternatives when dining out, many of us still aren’t in the groove of serving them at home. Some people do their best to put nutritious meals on the table, while others have to default to convenience.
But with some easy planning, you can have both deliciousness and healthfulness: Just about every grain and legume can be prepared in an hour or two on the weekend, and heated up as needed.
Grains and legumes have also been turned into convenience. You can buy them frozen or in boil bags, and boil or microwave them. As with the frozen vegetables, enjoy the same nutrition.
And all of us should now know how to season better with herbs and spices, instead of the salt and pepper shakers of yore.
WHY DON’T WE EAT MORE OF THEM?
Since the dawn of personal wealth, meat has been a sign of prosperity. Diets of mostly grains, beans and vegetables were fare for the less prosperous.
Whereas in other cultures meat—especially beef—remains a luxury, the U.S. has always had enough grazing land to produce large quantities of it. Quantity drove down prices, and a result, people ate more meat. In fact, many families could eat it at every meal, starting with breakfast meats.
As a result, the grains and legumes that still comprise a major part of other cuisines were passed over in favor of meat-and-starch diet: bacon or sausage at breakfast, a ham or roast beef sandwich for lunch, beef, chicken or pork for dinner.
Our eating habits grew out of balance. Case in point:
Spaghetti and [large] meatballs that are a signature “Italian” dish are actually Italian-American. It doesn’t exist in classic Italian cuisine. Few people in the old country could afford large amounts of meat on a regular basis—but working-class immigrants to the U.S. could.
HOW TO GET WITH THE PROGRAM
Americans eat too much processed food (and too much meat) and not nearly enough whole food. This is one reason why we have growing rates of stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, and gastrointestinal disorders like constipation.
While selling the general public on whole grains and legumes as “healthful” isn’t the best marketing approach for many consumers, “delicious” usually works. And truth to tell, it is easy to make these foods taste delicious.
There’s an easy solution below. But first…
WHAT ARE WHOLE GRAINS?
Whole grain are cereals with that have their germ, endosperm and bran intact, in contrast to refined grains which retain only the endosperm, and thus tend to retain little nutritional value after being processed.
Whole grains contain far more fiber than heavily-processed grains. They also provide protein, iron and other minerals, even some trace minerals (chromium, copper, molybdenum, selenium, etc). Their valuable phytonutrients (antioxidants) are removed in the refining process.
There’s overwhelming evidence that a diet including a sufficient quantity of whole grains can result in a healthier, and therefore better, life. The USDA recommends 48 grams of whole grains per day. It doesn’t matter if the grains are cooked ass is or ground into flour: Corn on the cob is a whole grain food, as are cornbread and polenta, made from cornmeal (corn flour).
The choice boils down to this: Eat refined white flour and white rice, or switch to better-for-you whole grains from the chart below. You can snack on potato chips, or switch to whole grain snacks like popcorn and whole-grain pretzels. (Note: “multigrain” is not “whole grain”: It can indicate a combination of two or more refined grains.)
Here’s more about whole grains.
WHAT ARE LEGUMES?
Legumes are plants that contain their fruits in pods. They are generally low in fat, high in protein and full of fiber and other nutrients (calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, etc.).
Examples include all forms of dried seeds, beans and peas, such as chickpeas, navy beans, soybeans, black beans, lentils, and black-eyed peas.
Among other things, legumes can help prevent blood sugar spikes. They help to lower cholesterol and contribute to gastrointestinal well-being. The USDA recommends that individuals consume three servings of whole grains each day—about half of your total grain intake—and about half a cup of legumes daily.
They can be easily substituted for pasta, white rice and potatoes.
14 WAYS TO EAT MORE WHOLE GRAINS & LEGUMES, AND LOVE THEM!
In our youth, one of the women’s magazines our mother bought had a meal calendar for the month: literally, a monthly calendar page with a suggested dinner menu for every day.
The meals were very varied—beyond the meat and potatoes that were popular at the time—and the dishes easy to make. As kids, we delighted in selecting which Birdseye frozen vegetables would be served at dinner.
But the point is the planning. If you take one of the wall calendars you picked up at the bank, you can write in a whole grain and/or legume for every day of the month. Then, implementing is easy.
Here are just a few ideas that can be incorporated into your everyday meals:
Burgers: There are delicious veggie burgers made with beans. Don’t knock them until you’ve tried them—and serve them on whole grain buns.
Bread: Buy whole wheat bread or oatmeal bread, including bagels.
Eggs: Add beans to an omelet or a scramble, or serve a side of well-seasoned beans with the eggs.
Hummus: In addition to dipping and snacking, use hummus or bean purée as a bread spread instead of butter, and as a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise.
Meat loaf: Make your meat loaf with a 3:1 ratio of ground meat to cooked whole grains or legumes. (We love Lentil Meat Loaf.)
Mexican/Tex-Mex: Use corn tortillas instead of white flour tortillas. The same goes for wrap sandwiches. Serve brown rice and puréed beans as rice-and-beans sides with non-Mexican mains.
Top: A side of barley, sugar snap peas and sundries tomatoes (All-Clad pot from Williams-Sonoma). Center: Make bean tostadas for lunch or snacks (photo courtesy U.S. Dry Bean Council). Bottom: Red Rice Thai Croquettes (photo courtesy Blogspot.PhilosophersSpoon.com).
Oats beyond porridge: Add rolled oats to muffins, pie crusts and cookies. Instead of conventional chocolate chip cookies, make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Pan-fry leftover oatmeal and serve it plain like polenta (with maple syrup or grated cheese), or with eggs. You can also whip up a large batch of oatmeal on the weekend and heat up your daily breakfast.
Pasta: Use whole wheat pasta instead of refined white flour pasta. If you don’t like the more pronounced flavor, combine half whole wheat pasta and half white flour pasta.
Pizza: Use chickpea flour (gluten free) or whole wheat flour instead of white flour—or buy whole grain pizza dough—for homemade pizza crusts. Purée white beans—cannellini, great northern or navy beans—as a pizza topping instead of tomato sauce, and top with roasted vegetables and mozzarella cheese.
Potatoes: Instead of potatoes on most nights, cut back to four nights a week and serve whole grains or legumes on the other nights. You may find yourself happily planning more nights of the better-for-you options.
Rice: Beyond brown rice, there are other good-for-you whole ready-to-heat-and-eat grains on the store shelves and in the freezer case. If you’ve never had wild rice, what a treat-well worth the extra time (and higher cost) to prepare it.
Salads: Add barley, beans (including edamame) or wheatberries to green salad, tuna salad, etc.
Snacks: Substitute popcorn or roasted chickpeas for potato chips and other “empty calorie” snack foods. Buy bags of frozen edamame in the pods, microwave them and serve as them with a sprinkle of coarse salt for a yummy snack (it’s fun to squeeze the beans from the pods). And for a sophisticated snack, make bruschetta or crostini with cooked beans and/or bean purée and a garnish of fresh herbs.
Soups: Enjoy more bean or lentil soup, and add beans, lentils or whole grains to other soups.
We know you’ll have even more ideas!
This article was inspired by one in the Sysco.com health newsletter.