Updated: Jul 3
Grains, Seeds & Nuts
The building blocks of a healthy Aortic diet
Robb Seltzer, The Aortic Chef; Mindy Seltzer RDN, The Aortic Dietitian
A healthy Aortic diet is built upon a foundation of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, legumes, nuts, healthy oils, and low fat (preferably fermented) dairy to be consumed daily. The number of servings per day and the proper portion sizes are key to realizing the healthy benefits of this eating lifestyle. Below is a chart describing these elements.
Servings per day
2 or more
Whole Grain Foods
1/2 cup or 1 sl. bread
Legumes & Nuts
1/4 cup uncooked
2 tsp (1/3 fl. oz.)
Grains are described as the seed of a category of grass known as the cereal grasses. These grasses include wheat, barley, rye, corn, rice, oats, spelt, farro, kamut, teff, freekeh, sorghum, millet, triticale and wild rice. Quinoa and amaranth are considered pseudo-grains, not a part of the cereal family, but included in the grain class. Bulgur is whole grain wheat (wheat berries) that has been washed, boiled, dried, ground and sorted by size (#1-#4, from fine to coarse).
Whole grains contain all of the parts of the edible seed; this includes the bran, endosperm and germ. Seeds, including grains, have a soft outer shell or skin that within has all of the nutrients necessary to grow a new plant. The outer skin is known as the hull or husk and typically is not eaten. A whole grain contains fiber, healthy fats, vitamins B & E, phytochemicals, minerals, protein and carbohydrates. A refined grain is made only from the endosperm, which does not contain all of the nutrient value of the whole grain.
There are many health benefits to utilizing the whole grain in one's diet as compared to refined grain. Bran and fiber reduce the glycemic index of carbohydrates, slowing the conversion of starches to glucose; thus maintaining a steady blood sugar and avoiding spikes. Fiber helps reduce cholesterol and assists in the movement of waste through the intestines. Additionally, fiber may prevent blood clots from forming, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Phytochemicals and minerals including magnesium, selenium and copper that are found in whole grains may help protect from cancer.
Refined grains and flours do not have the above benefits, as the bran and germ have been stripped away during processing. Including unprocessed whole grains and reducing the use of processed grains improves health in multiple ways. Choosing foods made with whole grains can be a challenge in today’s marketplace.
Reading and understanding food labels and ingredient lists can be confusing and laborius. The USDA lists five criteria that identify whole grains in food products:
Any whole grain as the first ingredient listed
Any whole grain as the first listed, and added sugars not being one of the first three ingredients
The word whole before any grain ingredient
A carbohydrate to fiber ratio of less that 10:1
The industry sponsored Whole Grain Stamp
A quick read of an ingredient list will handle numbers 1-3. Numbers 4 and 5 are a bit trickier. To calculate the carbohydrate to fiber ratio, read the nutrition label and find the carbohydrate category. Divide the total grams of carbohydrates by the total grams of fiber; if the resulting number is 10 or more the ratio is too high and the food does not contain enough fiber to be whole grain.
Do not be fooled by manufacturer’s product marketing practices. For example, foods with #5, the industry “Whole Grain Stamp” (found on many bread products), though containing more fiber, less sodium and trans fat, have been found to be higher in sugars and calories than products without the “Whole Grain Stamp”.
What is a solution to finding foods that are high in whole grains without added ingredients such as sugars, salt and fats and may have essential nutrients stripped away in the processing? Buy and cook grains in their whole form such as brown rice, oats, corn, barley and wheat. This is easier than you think.
Cooking whole grains is not much different than cooking processed grain products. The goal of cooking is to soften the grain enough to be digestible. This is accomplished by introducing heat and moisture until the fibers and starches absorb enough liquid and reach a temperature of 180 F to fully gelatinize. Moisture can be in the form of steam or boiling/simmering liquid. The liquids used are typically water or a prepared stock. Using an unsalted stock is important, as adding salt to a grain early in the cooking process will make it taste overly salted. The difference in cooking a whole grain compared to its processed form will be a longer cooking time and sometimes more liquid. Cooking times for grains are best determined by reading the package directions, as multiple reference guides list a variety of cooking times and liquid to grain ratios. This discussion is focused on whole grains in their whole or ground form, not milled into flour. Using and cooking flour will be covered later in the baking discussion.
There are three cooking techniques for grains that are worth noting: boiling/simmering, pilaf and risotto. Most grains are able to be prepared using any of the three methods, though the pilaf and risotto techniques are most commonly used for rice.
The boiling/simmering method includes: measuring the liquid to match the absorption rate of the grain, so that the liquid has been completely absorbed when done or, the pasta method in which the grain is cooked in an abundance of liquid (typically water) and when finished the extra liquid is strained off. The pasta method is very simple, especially when you do not have a chart or instructions handy with the grain to liquid ratio. The disadvantage is the extra water may contain nutrients, especially if the grain is enriched.
The pilaf method is used in some form in practically all cultures. The method for pilaf is to quickly sweat small diced onion and any sturdy vegetables (such as carrot or celery) and then add the grain and slightly toast it, allowing it to be completely coated with the oil. Once coated, the liquid is added, brought to a boil, covered and then placed in the oven to finish. The pilaf can also be finished on top of the stove over low heat. Quick cooking vegetables and herbs can be added towards the end of the cooking time.
The risotto method takes more patience and attention to prepare. The start of the technique is the same; quickly sweating off small diced onion and any sturdy vegetable and then adding the grain to toast and coat with the oil. Once the grain is toasted the heat is raised to medium high and white wine (optional) is added and stirred into the grain until it is absorbed. Hot stock is now added in small amounts (¼ - ⅓ of total necessary) and each addition is stirred until absorbed before the next is added. Typically, a risotto is finished with generous amounts of butter and grated parmigiano cheese to enhance the flavor and creaminess. In the Aortic Kitchen small amounts of unsalted butter and parmigiano cheese can be added.
When cooking a grain it is important to pay attention to the variety and the level of processing of the grain. For example, barley is available as groats (whole unprocessed), pearled (bran removed, the most common) and pearled quick cook (parboiled and dried). Rice has many varieties available in our marketplace and each has its own cooking times and process. Below is a quick explanation of the different rice varieties and level of processing available.
Rice is divided into three categories by length: long, medium and short grain. Long grain is long and thin, 4-5 times longer than wide and cooks up light, separate and fluffy. Medium is 2-3 times longer than wide and cooks up moist and tender. Short grain is more round and cooks up sticky and starchy, clumping together forming what is known as glutinous rice, which means like glue, not containing gluten. Brown rice does not have a standard for length and width but is categorized as extra long, long, medium and short grain. Many varieties of rice are available in both brown (hull removed) and white (hull, bran and germ removed). Brown rice can be substituted in any recipe that calls for white rice to increase its nutritional content. Parboiled or converted is a process that is used to partially cook the rice in its hull, then dried. This allows for a quicker cooking time and also results in very separate grains when cooked. Parboiled white rice is the most popular rice cooked worldwide.
Risotto, pudding, soup
Table, pilaf, curry
Long, med, short
Bowls, pudding, soup
Thai, curry, stir-fry
Dumplings, rice balls
Sushi, rice balls, poke
Not a true rice
Usually blend w/long
Incorporating whole grain foods as a focus of your diet is an important component of an Aortic healthy lifestyle. There are many options in both flavor and texture to choose from. Now that you have an understanding of choosing a technique and cooking a variety of whole grains, included are a few recipes to start your way to better health.