The More You Know: Nutrition!

I don’t know about anyone else, but personally I am sick of eating haphazardly. What I mean by this is that I am tired of eating without intention, because I simply do not KNOW what certain foods do to my body. I am sick of having stereotypically “healthy” foods grouped into one part of my mind, and stereotypically “unhealthy” foods in another, with no understanding of why or how certain foods make their way into one group or the other. (Not to mention the fact that placing value judgments on food at all opens the door to bad feelings.) So, I am putting an end to it right here, right now by learning about the various foods I take in every day, and I’m doing it here on Persephone so you can join me!

I figured the bottom of the food pyramid (grains!) was a great place to start “¦ so I did a little research. We all probably already know that grains are derived from seeds. Most of us probably also knew that we typically split them further into two categories: whole grains and refined grains. But I bet a lot of you (myself included!) didn’t know what those categories mean exactly. So let’s learn “¦

Whole grains are what we tend to consider “health food,” they are the grains that include all parts of the seed (the bran, endosperm, and the germ). These are the parts of the grain that contain many minerals (like iron and zinc), fiber, protein and fat. Refined (processed) grains have the bran and germ layers removed during processing, which causes many of the nutrients to get lost (although sometimes they are artificially put back in through a process called enrichment).

Whole grains are generally more recommended, because they contain more of the many things our bodies need. Refined grains can still be useful in some contexts; for instance, adding fiber-rich foods to refined grains can help to minimize the effect that the meal will have on your blood sugar, thus helping to stabilize it. So when you eat a refined grain, try to add a vegetable or a bean (high in fiber!) to maximize the benefits of your meal.

Fiber, carbohydrates that your body cannot digest, is awesome because it does all of these great things:

  • Fiber slows the rate that sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. When you eat foods high in fiber, such as beans and whole grains, the sugar in those foods is absorbed more slowly, which keeps your blood glucose levels from rising too quickly. This is good for you because spikes in glucose fall rapidly, which can make you feel hungry soon after eating and lead to overeating.
  • Fiber makes your intestines move faster. When you eat whole grains rich in insoluble fiber, it moves faster through your intestines, which can help signal that you are full.
  • Fiber cleans your colon, acting like a scrub brush. The scrub brush effect of fiber helps clean out bacteria and other buildup in your intestines, and reduces your risk for colon cancer.
  • Fiber helps keep you regular. A high-fiber diet helps you have soft, regular bowel movements, reducing constipation.


Another Persephone writer already covered one of my favorite grains, quinoa, so I advise you all to take a pause for a moment and read that post. (I’ll wait!)

Okay, so, now that you’re back I’d like to tell you about my favorite thing to make with quinoa (or bulgur wheat, or cous cous, or anything really): Tabbouleh Salad!

Basically all you have to do is cook up your grain to taste. Then, for a traditional tabbouleh, add: lemon juice (to taste), a tablespoon or two of olive oil, chopped parsley, and chopped tomatoes.  I make mine a bit differently. I don’t love tomatoes, so usually I throw in celery, cucumbers, onions, black beans, and/or red peppers (roasted or raw) to help balance everything out. This also adds a TON of fiber to the salad which means that you are getting a lot of value on top of your whole grains!

Other ideas that incorporate grains & fiber-rich veggies: Penne a la Vodka with peas and roasted red peppers, stuffed peppers with rice, oatmeal made with raw oats (the canisters come with directions & you can do it in the microwave!) and … what else? You tell me! What are your favorite ways to get your grains in, Persephone??

4 replies on “The More You Know: Nutrition!”

High fiber diets have HUGE health benefits for many lifestyles, but as someone dealing with very bad acid reflux issues, a high fiber diet has cut back on my instances of reflux. I work at a food cooperative in Ames, IA and we make TONS of great salads and prepared foods with different grains. My favorite as of late is the wheatberry (for which there are TONS of recipes on the internet). The one we make at our co-op is similar to this recipe: Wheatberry Salad with Red Fruit

I just cooked steel cut oats for the first time this week that I bought in bulk from a health food store. Boil 3 cups of water add a cup of oats and reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. Another method I heard about was to add the boiling water and let sit overnight. Add brown sugar, honey, fruit or whatever else you like and reheat in the microwave.

My favorite grain recipe that’s fast and simple comes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

All you have to do is cook the grain. You put a cup of the dried grain in a pot and cover it with an inch of water, inch and a half for barley. Some grains cook faster, like quinoa will take about fifteen minutes to absorb all the water. You sprinkle in a little salt when you start to boil it. Then once the grain is at a rolling boil you reduce the heat to medium and allow the grain to absorb all the water.

Then once you have cooked the grain, you can store it easily, but you just need to find your favorite spice and any vegetables you have lying around.

1 T favorite spice mixture (stuff like chili powder, curry powder, garam masala)
2 T olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
whatever vegetables you want

You heat the olive oil with the spice mixture. After the spice become fragrant, which takes very little time, around a minute or so, you add the garlic and let it cook up a little. Then you throw in whatever chopped vegetables you have. It’s a great way to use up things you think don’t go together. I like to use cauliflower and carrots with spinach, pumpkin seeds work too, and squash. Cut the pieces as big as you want. Throw the veggies in with the garlic. Cook for about 5 more minutes.

Then you throw in as much cooked grain as you want. If you are only cooking for yourself, you can throw in just half of it and cook the other half with a different spice mixture and different vegetables. You get a lot of different textures this way as well as use up stuff that may be going bad. This makes a meal in itself.

Once you’ve thrown in the grain, cook for about ten more minutes or so on medium-ish heat still. You just want to make sure everything warms up and your vegetables cook to their desired texture. Then you just have to serve it in a big bowl and eat it all with a spoon. It leaves you full for several hours, too, so it’s easy to make even in the morning if you want a nice easy start to the day.

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