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The carb conundrum

Elizabeth Yarnell is a Certified Nutritional Consultant and the author of Glorious One-Pot Meals: A new quick & healthy approach to Dutch oven cooking, a guide to a guide to preparing quick, healthy and balanced one-pot meals. As a moth...

Healthy Carbs Or No-Carbs?

As Americans we have mixed feelings about carbohydrates. On the one hand, we blindly jump on the low-carb bandwagon and follow unhealthy, low-carb or no-carb diets in our pursuit to lose weight quickly. On the other, we love our white bread, enriched pasta and potatoes in any form. Our expanding waistlines witness our confusion.
Healthy Carbs Or No-Carbs?
While protein is the building block of muscle mass, carbohydrates are what give us the energy not only to lead active lifestyles, but also to complete autonomic functions such as breathing, blinking and heartbeats.

A body denied carbohydrates enters ketosis, an unbalanced, acidic state, and then begins to cannibalize itself in the pursuit of fuel for energy. Talk about an unhealthy state!

The key is in knowing which kinds of carbs help us and which we'd be better off without.

Processed and refined carbs, like those found in white and wheat breads, white crackers, pastas, etc., and white rice, come from grains where the bran and the germ have been removed. That amounts to lost dietary fiber, protein, and a host of other nutrients. What are left are calories that the body can't completely access without the missing elements.

Complex carbohydrates -- like those found in whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds. seaweeds and vegetables and fruits -- provide exactly what our bodies need in just the right proportions and amounts to be most fully utilized.

While the healthfulness of oats made headlines for a while, all whole grains offer similar benefits. They're low in fat and good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein.

A recent Tufts University study showed that consuming at least three servings of whole-grain foods daily can lower risks for abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), high blood pressure and poor blood sugar control. Eating any whole grains -- not just oats -- can put you in better shape for treating or avoiding diabetes, cholesterol issues, heart disease and even cancer.

Even though diabetics are often advised to restrict carbohydrate intake, the American Diabetes Association encourages even diabetics to include three daily servings of whole grains. Though refined carbs can cause a spike in blood sugar levels because they move through the body so quickly, whole grains are digested slowly, maintaining a glycemic balance while providing a satiated feeling.

Whole-grain diets also promote bowel health through maintaining regular movements and promoting growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.

Healthy Carbs

Look for labels that read "whole wheat" or "whole grain" rather than simply "wheat" or "multi-grain". Here are some whole grains to help expand our healthy carb repertoire:
  • Healthy Carbs Or No-Carbs?Whole-grain corn (grits/polenta/popcorn)
  • Whole oats/oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Whole rye
  • Whole-grain barley
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Millet
  • Quinoa (the only grain that is a complete protein)
  • Sorghum (a gluten-free grain)

Try this light and easy quinoa meal as a tasty alternative to rice, pasta or potatoes. Feel free to build it ahead of time and store it in the fridge until you're ready to cook it in a fully-preheated oven. When doing this, remember to reserve the liquid and then add it right before cooking or you'll end up with a quinoa patty!

Southwestern Quinoa

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup quinoa
2 cups broth or water
1 tsp. cumin
1- 1 3/4 lb. beef or turkey tenderloin
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 scallions, sliced into thin rounds
2 fresh green chiles, stemmed, seeded, chopped (Anaheim for milder palates; pasilla, poblano or jalapeno for a spicier meal)
2 small yellow summer squashes, halved, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
6-8 leaves kale or chard, destemmed, roughly chopped (about 4 cups chopped)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray inside of 3 1/2- or 4-quart cast iron Dutch oven and lid with olive oil.

2. Pour in quinoa. Add liquid and cumin and stir to dissolve and evenly coat grains.

3. Set trimmed tenderloin in next and sprinkle with sea salt, scallions and green chiles. Layer in squash, followed by red bell pepper. Fill to the top with greens, making certain none hang over the edge.

4. Cover and bake for about 35 minutes, or until about 3 minutes after the aroma of a fully-cooked meal wafts from the oven.

My husband prefers this meal with a sauce such as salsa or gravy, while I appreciate the unadorned elements as presented here and the satisfied-but-not-stuffed way I feel after eating.

Notes
Quinoa is the only whole grain that is a complete protein as it provides all the essential amino acids in a balanced pattern. With more high quality protein than any other whole grain and wheat and gluten-free, quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa") is also light and delicate with a delicious nutty flavor that is perfect for summer weather.

Once the staple food of the Incas, the ancient Andean civilization respectfully referred to quinoa as the "Mother Grain".

Nutritional Analysis per serving: (based on using organic chicken broth and skinless turkey meat)
Calories 408, Protein 14g, Carbs 56, Fat 11g, Chol 86mg, Sod 553mg (268 if made with water instead of broth), Fiber 7g

PP Keyword: BANDWAGON worth 50 points good through 11/25/07

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