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Carbs are not the enemy!  I repeat – carbs are not the enemy!

Unfortunately, carbs have gotten such a bad rap that most people think all carbs are evil and need to be avoided like the plague.  As a primary source of energy, carbohydrates are converted to glucose to provide fuel for the body, particularly to the brain and nervous system.  Carbohydrates fall into broad categories and are not limited solely to grains.

There are two types of carbohydrates – simple or complex.  Simple carbs (sugars) are found in fruits and vegetables and provide quick bursts of energy which burns off rapidly.  Complex carbs (starches), the carbs many people think of as unhealthy, are found in whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables (e.g., green peas, corn, sweet potato, potato, etc.).  Because their structure is more complex, starches require a lengthier digestive process than sugars to convert to energy.

Complex carbs provide the body with a slow, steady release of glucose or sustained energy. They are high in essential vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and potassium.  Complex carbs help establish and maintain healthy blood sugar levels, assist with weight control, increase dietary fiber, and help prevent damage to blood vessels.

As a complex carb, whole grains are high in fiber, low in fat, and healthy for you.  Think beyond brown rice, whole wheat breads, and oatmeal.  Get to know these grains.

  1. Quinoa.  Technically considered a seed, quinoa is a complete protein full of essential amino acids which are the building blocks of protein in the body.  It has a slightly nutty taste.  I like to rinse mine first and prepare it like I prepare rice.  Quinoa is cholesterol-free and also gluten-free.  It is an excellent source of protein for individuals following a vegan lifestyle.
  2. Barley.  Often associated with beer production, barley pearls are a healthy whole grain also high in essential amino acids.  Toss in some pearl barley when making soups and stews.
  3. Bulgar.  Bulgar is a versatile quick-cooking whole-grain with more nutritional value than rice or couscous.  Best known for its use in Tabouili salad, it can be used in pilaf’s, soups and casseroles.
  4. Wild rice.  Wash wild rice before cooking and cook like regular rice in a ratio of 1 part rice to 3 parts water.  I actually prefer mixing in a little bit of wild rice when cooking brown rice.  Wild rice blend products are also available in pre-packaged form.  Wild rice adds an extra layer of nuttiness and substance.  I believe it also offers a nice visual contrast to rice dishes or rice salads.
  5. Kasha.  Kasha is made from buckwheat.  This is my most recent whole grain discovery in the grocery aisle and I decided to give it a try it.  It reminds me of steel-cut oatmeal in appearance.  My understanding is it is common in the Jewish culture and served with onions and brown gravy or as a breakfast cereal.  Kasha is cholesterol-free and gluten-free.  I prepared it as a Kasha Pilaf:  prepare the Kasha according to the package instructions and add in 1/2 cup sautéed vegetables (I used chopped red onion, garlic, and mushrooms).  Omit adding additional butter or margarine to the package instructions.  Cook until the Kasha kernels are tender and the liquid is absorbed.