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’Tis the Season for Heart-Healthy Whole Grains

By Maura Keller

Here’s a discussion about the lipid-lowering effect of whole grain foods, the research supporting it, and holiday dessert recipes for health-conscious clients.

For years, RDs and other healthcare professionals have been touting the fact that a diet rich in whole grains, especially the grains that contain soluble fiber, are essential for heart health.

“Soluble fiber dissolves in water and can be found in many fruits, nuts, flax, oats, legumes, and bran,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, wellness manager for the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. “Many studies have linked consumption of soluble fiber with lowering LDL cholesterol.”

Jennifer Weddig, PhD, RD, CLC, an associate professor of nutrition at Metropolitan State College of Denver, says, “Dietary fiber—soluble fiber—can decrease blood cholesterol by binding with bile acids in the intestine so they’re excreted, and the body has to use its own cholesterol pool to make more bile acids. In addition, there are vitamins and minerals in high-fiber grains like folate, potassium, and magnesium that may reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Phytosterols found in high-fiber plant products also may inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine, thereby decreasing cholesterol/blood lipid levels.”

Lipid-Lowering Grains

According to research, some of the grains that can help in the cholesterol-lowering battle include amaranth, barley, oats, brown rice, and quinoa.

Amaranth is becoming a popular alternative whole grain for people looking to lower blood lipid levels. In a study published in the January 2007 issue of Lipids in Health and Disease, Russian researchers randomized 125 cardiovascular disease patients to receive daily doses of amaranth oil (ranging from 3 to 18 mL). Patients who presented with coronary heart disease and hypertension not only showed benefits from including amaranth in their diets, but researchers also saw a significant decrease in the amounts of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol.

Barley also has been found to lower cholesterol. In a double-blind Japanese study published in the March 2008 issue of Plant Foods and Human Nutrition, researchers randomly assigned 44 men to eat either standard white rice or a mixture of rice and high-beta-glucan pearl barley for 12 weeks. The study found that barley intake significantly reduced serum cholesterol and visceral fat, both of which are markers of cardiovascular risk.

Oats. In a study published in the August 2002 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at Colorado State University randomized 36 overweight middle-aged men to receive an oat or wheat cereal daily for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12 weeks, the men who ate the oat cereal had lower concentrations of small, dense LDL cholesterol and lower LDL levels overall compared with those in the wheat group.

Brown/black rice. Researchers in the department of food and nutrition at Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea, who studied the effects of brown rice on cholesterol found that overweight adult women who consumed whole grain brown and black rice had an increase in HDL cholesterol levels and in antioxidant activity compared with those who consumed white rice. The study was published in the February 2008 issue of Nutrition Research.

Quinoa. Italian researchers at the University of Milan studied the effects of different foods on glucose and insulin response, triglycerides, and free fatty acids. Quinoa produced lower free fatty acid levels and triglyceride concentrations than other gluten-free pastas and breads. This study was published in the August 2004 issue of the European Journal of Nutrition.

— Maura Keller is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.


Cholesterol-Lowering Holiday Treats

Clients can enjoy delicious whole grains during the holiday season by making the following desserts. Here are just a few of the recipes available.

Best Pumpkin Pie Ever

This easy pumpkin pie recipe has a light filling and a great whole-wheat crust you can use with any pie.

Makes 8 slices

Whole Grain Pie Crust
1 cup whole white wheat flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 T cold unsalted butter
3 T canola oil
2 T orange juice (optional)
2 to 4 T ice water

Pumpkin Filling
2 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup milk
1 can pumpkin puree (not pie mix!), about 15 oz.
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar

To make the crust
1. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Cut the butter into small cubes, then work it into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender or a fork, until the dough is crumbly and butter pieces are smaller than peas.

3. Sprinkle the OJ over the dough and mix lightly by hand. Add ice water a little at a time, mixing lightly by hand until the dough hangs together when you grab a handful.

4. Wet your countertop, and lay out a big square of wax paper. Plunk the ball of dough on the wax paper, squish it a little, and top with a second square of wax paper, then roll out until it’s big enough to fit in an 8- to 9-inch pie pan.

5. Remove the top piece of wax paper. Turn dough upside down, holding the remaining wax paper, and fit the dough into the pan. Then remove the remaining wax paper.

6. Turn any overlapping bits of dough under the edges, and crimp with your fingers or with a fork, to make a nice edge. There’s no “right” way. Be creative.

7. Poke holes all over the bottom of the crust with your fork, so the bottom won’t puff up during baking. Then bake for about 10 minutes, until crust is golden brown. You can make the crust the night before, if you’d like.

To make the filling and finish the pie
1. Preheat oven to 325˚F. Cover edge of crust with tin foil, so it won’t overcook.

2. Separate eggs, with the yolks going into a large bowl and the whites into your mixer bowl.

3. Combine sugar and spices (last five ingredients) together in a small bowl.

4. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.

5. Combine milk and pumpkin with the egg yolks. Add sugar-spice mix, and mix well.

6. Fold in egg whites. (That means to mix by turning over spoonfuls, as gently as possible, so all the fluffiness of the egg whites isn’t lost.)

7. Pour into pie shell, and bake for about 40 minutes, until a knife comes out clean. Serve as is, or with a dollop of whipped cream.

Nutrient Analysis per slice: Calories: 241; Total fat: 12 g; Sat fat: 4 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 66 mg; Sodium: 258 mg; Total carbohydrate: 30 g; Dietary fiber: 4 g; Sugar: 15 g; Protein: 5 g

Notes: This crust is adapted from a recipe in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook, and the filling was inspired by a recipe in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts cookbook.
Recipe courtesy of the Whole Grains Council and Cynthia Harriman, Oldways


Brown Rice Apple Crisp

Traditionally, fruit crisps are made with oats alone, but nothing says other whole grains can't join the party. Cook some extra rice at dinner tonight, and you'll have a shortcut for tomorrow's dessert. Two whole grains are better than one!

Makes 8 servings

1 cup whole grain brown rice
Vegetable cooking spray
2 cans (20 oz. each) pie-sliced apples, undrained
1 T lemon juice
1 cup brown sugar, packed (divided)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups uncooked rolled oats
2 T butter
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Prepare rice according to package directions. Spray shallow 3-quart baking dish (13 X 9) with cooking spray; set aside.

2. Combine cooked rice, apples, lemon juice, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and cinnamon in prepared dish. Combine oatmeal and remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar in medium bowl; cut in butter until mixture resembles course crumbs. Stir in raisins and nuts. Sprinkle over rice mixture.

3. Bake until heated, about 20 minutes. Serve warm, perhaps with a dollop of yogurt or ice cream.

Nutrient Analysis per serving: Calories: 413; Total fat: 9 g; Sat fat: 2 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 8 mg; Sodium: 12 mg; Total carbohydrate: 80 g; Dietary fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 6 g

Tip: Consider cutting back on the grains or making smaller servings to reduce the number of calories.

Tip: You can use fresh apples instead of canned if you prefer. Cut up four large apples (baking apples such as Cortlands are good) and microwave on high for one minute, then add to recipe as directed above.

Recipe courtesy of Mahatma Rice/Riviana Foods, Riviana Kitchens


Barley Chocolate Chip and Walnut Cookies

All the goodness of your favorite chocolate chip cookie with a twist: barley flour instead of wheat.

Makes 20 cookies

1/2 cup barley flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup rice malt syrup or honey
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 cup chocolate or carob chips

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

2. Combine flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl.

3. Beat egg and combine with oil, syrup, and vanilla.

4. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and mix together to form stiff dough. Mix in walnuts and chips.

5. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Tip: Use a 1/8-cup measure to drop dough onto an oiled cookie sheet. Dip 1/8-cup measure into cool water first to prevent dough from sticking. Wet hand in cool water and flatten each cookie with palm. 

Nutrient Analysis per serving: Calories: 151; Total fat: 9 g; Sat fat: 2 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 11 mg; Sodium: 35 mg; Total carbohydrate: 16 g; Dietary fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 12 g; Protein: 3 g

Recipe courtesy of Shiloh Farms


Quinoa “Oatmeal” Cookies

Craving old-fashioned Oatmeal Raisin cookies? Try these gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free cookies, with both egg-free and soy-free options. Perfect as an after school snack, these crunchy, slightly sweet cookies are packed with the added nutrition of quinoa. Look for them to become a new family favorite.

Makes 36 cookies

6 T dairy-free/soy-free margarine (may substitute with butter)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soft silken tofu (may substitute with 1 egg)
3/4 cup quinoa flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp gluten-free vanilla
1 1/2 cups Arzu Original Flavor (see note)
1/2 cup raisins (may substitute with dried cranberries)

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

2. Cream margarine, brown sugar and tofu (or egg).

3. Add quinoa flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat for 1 minute on high. Add vanilla and Arzu. Mix well. Add raisins and gently mix in.

4. Drop by teaspoonful onto parchment lined cookie sheet.

5. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown.

6. Cool before storing in air-tight container.

Note: Arzu is a gluten-free mix of whole grain quinoa, buckwheat, and legumes that can be eaten as a porridge or incorporated into a wide range of cooked and baked products.

Nutrient Analysis per cookie: Calories: 50, Fat: 1.5 g, Sodium: 90 mg, Carbs: 9 g, Fiber: 1 g, Protein: > 1 g, Iron: 2% of RDA.

Recipe courtesy of Kim Wirth, RN, BSN, a pediatric nurse at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. She’s also co-owner of
World Wise Grains, maker of gluten-free Arzu.

For more whole grain recipes and information about whole grains, visit www.wholegrainscouncil.org.