Food Group Superfoods (Part 1)

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By now, you’re well aware that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good for you. As far as other foods, well, things can seem murky, depending on whom you listen to. Dietitians are fond of telling people that "everything in moderation" is the way to go. But aren’t there certain foods that really stand out from the crowd?

If you were on a desert island and could only have a few foods to keep you alive and healthy, wouldn’t you want to know what those should be? What I’m going to do over the next few weeks is highlight a few (but not all) of the superstars from each of the food groups that you may already be familiar with.

Now, please understand that there are many, many healthy foods. My goal is to showcase some foods that you may not think of as being good for you or that you’ve never tried before. You might be pleasantly surprised and you may just find a way to add variety to your meals and snacks.

Starches: Breads, Grains, and Starchy Vegetables

What they offer:
What better way to start off the day than with a steaming bowl of oatmeal? (Not the sweetened, flavored, instant oatmeal, though.) Oats have a lot to offer, especially for people with diabetes. They’re super-rich in manganese and B vitamins, along with magnesium, selenium, iron, calcium, and potassium. Plus, they contain a type of fiber called beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels. In fact, eating one bowl of oatmeal every day can lower cholesterol levels up to 23%. For each 1% that you lower your cholesterol, you lower your heart disease risk by 2%. In addition, beta-glucan can help lower glucose levels.

What else can oats do? Studies have shown that they may help control blood pressure and, because they have a high satiety value (meaning, they keep you full), they can play a role in weight management.

Nutrition info: One cup of cooked regular oatmeal contains about 150 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fat, and 4 grams of fiber. Rolled or steel-cut oatmeal has a glycemic index (GI) of 48, so it’s considered to have a low glycemic index. (For comparison, instant oatmeal has a GI of 79.)

What to look for/how to use: Try to buy rolled or steel-cut (Irish) oats instead of oatmeal flavored with sugar and salt. Keep oats in an airtight container. Besides making cereal from oats, use them to coat chicken or fish; stir them into your hamburger or meatloaf mixture; and substitute one-third of the flour in your bread, muffin, or pancake recipe with oats. By the way, think it takes too long to cook steel-cut oats in the morning? Start cooking them the night before in your slow cooker (check out this recipe from EatingWell magazine:

What it offers:
Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) is a seed that’s packed with protein. It originated in the Andes mountains in South America and was a staple food of the Aztecs and Incas. The use of quinoa declined dramatically with the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, but it’s since made a comeback. Unlike other grain foods, quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids; plus, it’s rich in manganese, iron, potassium, B vitamins, and antioxidants.

As far as health benefits go, this ancient grain may help with a whole host of conditions, by boosting cardiovascular health, reducing heart failure, and preventing breast cancer, gallstones, and childhood asthma. In addition, along with oatmeal and other whole grains, quinoa may help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Nutrition info: One-half cup of cooked quinoa contains about 130 calories, 24 grams of carbohydrate, 5 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, and 2 grams of fiber. It has a glycemic index of 35, which is low. An added bonus: Quinoa is gluten-free.

What to look for/how to use: Quinoa comes in different varieties, ranging from pale yellow to red to brown to black. The grain should be stored in a sealed container. Rinse quinoa before cooking to remove any leftover coating, called saponin (it may suds up when you’re rinsing the grain). Next, toast the quinoa in a skillet for about 5 minutes. Use two parts liquid (water) to one part quinoa; bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes. The grains will be translucent. Serve in place of your usual rice or potato. Also, try quinoa in casseroles, soups, and even cold in salads.

More superfoods next week!

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