Category Archives: Nutrition Tips

February 25, 2013

What’s a Whole Grain Anyway?

Whole wheat, whole grain, enriched, refined…what does it all mean?

Whole Grains

The basics: The grain kernel is composed of the germ, bran and endosperm (see photo below). This is how the kernels are naturally found when harvested and reaped.

  1. The Germ contains essential fatty acids, vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, folate and some protein.
  2. The Bran is rich in fiber (responsible for brown color of whole grain), B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  3. The Endosperm contains mostly starch, with trace amounts of oils and protein.

Whole Grain

Health benefits of consuming whole grains:

  • Associated with lower LDL and triglyceride levels, and therefore the risk of heart disease
  • Consumption is inversely related to hypertension
  • Shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity
  • Helps improve bowel health and promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon, which may reduce the risk of stomach and intestinal cancers.
  • Promotes healthy metabolism and a healthy nervous system
  • The antioxidants, phenols, lignans and saponins present in whole grains may prevent cancer

In order to receive these health benefits you have to make sure the products you are consuming contain the grain kernel in its original form (with the germ, bran and endosperm intact). Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as you would think. It’s easy to get confused when shopping at the grocery store nowadays with the endless numbers of products, deceiving marketing tactics and unrecognizable ingredient lists.  More importantly, be wary of refined grains and enriched flour that all too frequently find their way into a vast majority of our food.

Refined Grains:
In an effort to increase the shelf life of products, manufacturers often process wheat through a refining method, by stripping the kernel of the germ and bran. This results in white, refined wheat. This means that the wheat is stripped of the nutrients mentioned above, namely the fiber and healthy fats.

Enriched Flour:
Enriched flour means that the nutrients and vitamins stripped during the refining process are added back in. Unfortunately, enriched flours don’t have the same nutritional benefits as whole-wheat flours. For starters, less fiber is present, causing blood sugar spikes. Key nutrients are also left out. Additionally, a different form of iron is added back in that is not as bioavailable as the form found in whole wheat alternatives.

In general, refined grains and enriched flours are metabolized much quicker and increase blood sugar more rapidly than their whole grain counterparts. They have been associated with increasing cholesterol and inflammation in the body as well.

How to distinguish if a product is made with whole-grains…ONLY!
First things first….forget the marketing claims on the packages of the foods you are purchasing.  Just because they claim to be “100% whole grain,” “whole wheat,” “multigrain,” or “stone ground” doesn’t guarantee that you will be consuming a truly whole grain product. In fact, many of these products are composed mostly of refined flours, with marginal amounts of whole grains. Some manufacturers even color their products brown with molasses or caramel color to give the illusion of whole grains.

BOTTOM LINE: Skip straight to the ingredient lists, which will indicate if it is, in fact, a whole grain product.

Whole grains:

  • Amaranth
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Millet
  • Popcorn
  • Sorghum
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-grain barley (hulled barley or hull-less)
  • Whole-grain corn or whole corn
  • Whole farro
  • Whole kamut
  • Whole oats/oatmeal
  • Whole rye or rye berries
  • Wild rice
  • Whole spelt
  • Whole grain ____ flour
  • Whole white wheat*
  • 100% whole wheat flour
  • *Whole white wheat is a whole grain, despite the white color. It has many of the nutritional advantages of traditional whole wheat, but with lighter color, milder taste and softer texture.

A good rule of thumb is to look for the word WHOLE preceding the grain. Note: Those grains listed above without the term “whole”, refer to grains that are very rarely made in processed form.

The following ingredients/terms are not clear indicators that a product is whole grain, and should therefore be avoided. These ingredients often signify that refined grains or enriched flours (non-whole grains) are being used:

  • Bread flour
  • Degerminated
  • Enriched flour
  • Enriched wheat flour
  • Flour
  • Rice flour
  • Unbleached wheat flour
  • Wheat *
  • Wheat flour *
  • Wheat starch
  • *Pretty sneaky, huh?!?

Many products use a combination of grains or flours, so it’s important to check the whole list of ingredients.

Aim to make half the grains you consume daily to be whole grains as recommended by The 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines. Don’t like the taste of whole wheat bread or brown rice? Give white whole wheat bread a try and explore some of the other grains mentioned above.

We did some investigating and discovered that the following products are not actually 100% whole grain. Busted!!!


Ingredient(s) in question

Cream of Wheat Wheat farina, Partially defatted wheat germ
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Milled corn
Kellogg’s Eggo Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles Enriched flour
Kellogg’s Product 19 Milled corn and Wheat flour
Kellogg’s Special K Rice, Wheat gluten, Defatted wheat germ
Luna Bars Organic rice flour
Nabisco’s Wheat Thins Unbleached enriched flour
Pepperidge Farm Light Style Seven Grain bread Wheat Flour, Unbromated unbleached enriched flour
Pirate’s Booty Corn meal and Rice

Be your own detective and don’t be fooled my tricky marketing tactics!

In good health,

Read more on whole grains at the Whole Grains Council website.

December 24, 2012

Healthy Eating for the Holiday Season

Happy Holidays from Chickpeas & Chocolate! Enjoy this time with family, friends and GOOD FOOD.

Here are 10 tips for keeping on track this holiday season:

  1. Remember it’s a holiDAY – Just because there are numerous holiday parties and celebrations from Thanksgiving through New Years, doesn’t mean it’s a free for all. Let loose and enjoy your favorite foods on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and one day of Hanukah or Kwanzaa and then get back on track the next day. One day of overindulgence isn’t the problem; it’s weeks of poor eating, drinking and lack of exercise that lead to setbacks.
  2. There’s no need for restriction – On the holidays themselves, eat the specialty foods that you look forward to all year. It would be cruel to deprive yourself of latkes, eggnog, stuffing, gravy and other holiday-specific delicacies. Instead, steer clear of fried foods, heavy pasta dishes and rich desserts that you have access to year-round.
  3. Use the Plate Method as a guide – During holiday celebrations with friends, family and work use the plate method as a guide to stay on track. Fill ½ your plate with veggies/salad, ¼ of your plate with starchy items, and ¼ with protein – This method is the perfect way to stay in check. Click here for a great example of the “My Plate” Method from
  4. Watch the alcohol intake – Alcohol contributes seven calories per gram, which is almost as much as fat. This doesn’t account for mixers and juices that are typically added to cocktails. And let’s be honest, once we get a few drinks in us, the late night munchies are almost inevitable. And what about that “hangover breakfast” you crave that is filled with fat-laden breakfast potatoes and oily/fried foods? Basically, drinking can really sabotage your plans to stay healthy during the holiday season. Keep in mind that dehydration can mimic hunger, so it’s important to stay hydrated. Try drinking a glass of water in between alcoholic beverages. I love adding seltzer to some white wine for a refreshing spritzer; this provides less alcohol and fewer calories. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks for men. Note, one drink equates to 12oz of beer, 5oz of wine, and 1.5oz of 80-proof distilled spirits (gin, whiskey, vodka, etc). See chart below, which breaks down caloric content of various types of alcohol.  Give yourself a weekly limit and stick to it!
  5. Slow down – When has there ever been a shortage of food or drinks at holiday events? Eat and drink slowly and allow your brain to catch up to your stomach.
  6. Step away from the food table – Take your conversations away from the food table – it’s hard to stop eating when it’s right in front of you!
  7. Eat REAL food – As always, avoid processed baked goods and foods with artificial colorings, artificial flavors and preservatives that definitely don’t hold a dime next to the delicious homemade items. They are not worth the chemicals, calories or stomach space!
  8. Don’t skip meals – It may seem like a good idea to cut back and eat less during the day so that you can indulge at a party later, but this typically backfires. First off, your body needs fuel so don’t deprive it. Secondly, if you show up starving you’re more likely to overeat. Third, if you start drinking on an empty stomach you are going to be “that guy.” Before going to your umpteenth holiday party make sure to have a snack.
  9. Walk it off – There’s nothing better than a good meal surrounded by the people you love. Instead of collapsing onto the couch with your guests after dinner, suggest a short walk [or if it’s the right crowd, put on some music and have a dance party]. Exercise is not only great for your overall health, but also can be extremely helpful for stress relief during the holiday season. Plan fun activities with your friends to stay active and motivated: go for a walk/run, bike ride, ice skating, rock climbing, take a dance/zumba class or hit the gym – whatever you like… just move that body.
  10. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to eat it – Let’s face it, it’s nearly impossible to turn down a free ice cream sample on the street (or any type of free food sample for that matter); it’s exciting and unexpected. But, if we all ate everything that was offered to us during the holiday season we would undoubtedly have a fight with our scale…and pants. There is usually tons of free food displayed in the workplace throughout the holidays and the combination of stress, boredom and hunger make it easy to turn to the convenient and FREE food table. Make sure to stock your desk with some healthy snacks so you don’t fall prey to those holiday calorie traps. Some of my personal favorites are nuts, granola, rice cakes and peanut butter, fresh fruit and dark chocolate. If you are going to select something from the spread of free treats at the office, choose a small piece of chocolate that you can savor and enjoy.

Here’s a fun recipe to try out with your kids in honor of the holiday season: Popcorn Snowmen via

Happy Holidays!