If whole grains and beans have been a limited part of your usual, comfortable eating habits, how do you move from knowing they’re recommended for good health to enjoying them as part of everyday eating?
- Are you stuck in a rut with your only whole grains coming from whole wheat bread or breakfast cereal?
- Are dried beans only on your plate in an occasional bowl of chili or in the form of hummus as a dip?
Despite any additional motivation for healthy eating, studies show that overall, survivors of adult or childhood cancers tend to have diets as unhealthy, or even less healthy, than the population as a whole.
In part one my video interview with Sue Czap, MS, RD, CSO, you heard about a cooking class for cancer survivors and their family members held at the Gilda’s Club in Rochester, New York. Here, in part two of our interview, Sue shares her approach to expanding variety of whole grains and legumes.
Whether or not you are a cancer survivor, there are tips here for you!
After you watch the video, read on for ideas and a bevy of resources to help make whole grains and legumes an easy and enjoyable part of your everyday eating habits….
Cancer Survivors Changing Eating Habits
Perhaps you assume that people who have faced the threat of cancer would come out the other side motivated and ready to ramp up healthy eating. But guess what: cancer survivors face the same problems we all do in making changes to eating habits and making those changes stick. In fact, cancer survivors may face additional challenges in post-cancer fatigue and treatment-related effects that make it seem even harder to change eating habits.
For cancer survivors, we need more research on specific food choices, but people with healthy eating patterns do seem to fare better in multiple ways, including cancer-related outcomes and the risk of heart disease that poses a serious threat to many cancer survivors.
Cancer survivor or not, if you want to get more comfortable enjoying whole grains and legumes in your everyday eating habits, here are some resources with tips, meal ideas and recipes. You’ll find a link to one of the recipes that participants in Sue Czap’s Wellness Cooking Class* prepared the day of my visit. You’ll find a link to one of the many recipes we prepare as part of a culinary translation workshop** that I help lead, too. And you’ll also find links to ideas and recipes that inspire me in my own efforts to eat healthfully.
Whole Grains: Expand Variety and Amount
Unless you are trying to add more calories, it’s important that eating more whole grains means you are swapping them as replacements for refined grains (or another food).
Do you count on whole-grain bread as your primary whole grain? Bread is great, but cooked whole grains offer several added advantages:
- They’re called staples because they keep well on your kitchen shelf. Especially if you’re cooking for just one or two people, they pose none of the worries about bread drying out or getting moldy.
- As long as you don’t use the salt-laden “flavor packet” that comes with many of these, sodium content of most is no more than 10 to 15 mg in a cup of cooked grains, while the equivalent two slices of whole wheat bread may be 300 mg of sodium or more.
Explore the Big Wide World of Whole Grains!
Here are some of the favorites I always keep on hand:
- Brown rice – Choose quick-cooking options if time is tight.
- Bulgur – Perhaps best known in tabbouleh (the grain-herb-tomato salad), it can be the basis of many hot or cold mixed vegetable dishes, or as a side dish on its own. And it’s ready in minutes!
- Couscous – Not all couscous is whole-grain, so choose carefully. Like bulgur, it’s great in a hot or cold dish mixed with vegetables or dried beans, and it’s super-fast to prepare.
- Farro – I was slow to come to the table and try this, and now I’m so glad I did. This hearty wheat has a substantial texture and nutty flavor that allow it to stand up to other ingredients, including more flavorful cheeses. It’s a terrific partner for all kinds of healthy foods.
- Oatmeal – Easy to make in the morning or as the overnight oats that are so popular right now, you can add fruit, nuts, milk or yogurt of choice and have a solidly nutritious meal.
- Quinoa – Always in my pantry, it’s quick to prepare and delicious on its own or in mixed dishes. When time is tight, I often swap quinoa in a salad or mixed dish recipe that calls for rice. And if you or others for whom you’re cooking need to avoid gluten, quinoa is a terrific high-fiber choice .
How to Cook Whole Grains?
The Whole Grains Council offers loads of tips and inspiration for your journey to explore more whole grains.
- Whole Grains A to Z gives you the basics on a wide range of whole grain choices and links to recipes.
- You can download tips for various whole grains. And check this fabulous cooking chart that provides cooking instructions, time and tips for each whole grain option.
- Use the search box to get recipe ideas for a specific whole grain (for example, bulgur, buckwheat, farro, amaranth), or peruse the whole list of recipes!
My monthly issue of Cooking Light has long been a source of cooking ideas for me, and the website has lots of recipes for whole grains. Check the tips on their downloadable, printable tracking sheet, developed to help you establish the habit of eating more whole grains.
From the workshops:
One Pan Mexican Quinoa (pictured above) was one of the dishes the participants in Sue Czap’s Wellness Cooking Class prepared on the day of my visit.
Lazy Morning Muesli with Apple and Walnut Crumble was a delightful way to start the day in the most recent Culinary Translation Workshop I helped lead.
Pulses: So Many Reasons, So Many Ways to Eat More
If, like many people, you simply aren’t used to including dried beans, dried peas and lentils very often, the easy way to start is to simply add them to dishes you already eat.
- Add pulses to a vegetable or grain side dish. This can turn it into a main dish, or make it a more substantial side dish.
- To keep the flavoring and consistency familiar, swap pulses for all or some of the meat in a soup, stew or casserole. Or use pulses in place of some of the grains, especially if those grains have previously been refined grains.
- Add pulses to a soup or sauce and blenderize. It’s a perfect way to create a rich, comforting thickness instead of turning to cream or simple starches.
When you’re looking for more variety to make using legumes fun? Look beyond those simple strategies and explore other ways to use legumes.
For example, my latest exploration has been using chickpea flour. I made a dish popular in France called Socca. Describing it as a big pancake that you cut into wedges does not do it justice. I found this recipe by Mark Bittman , and following ideas in the Comments section below it, I added a little over a cup of mushrooms in addition to the onions. It was the star of a delicious dinner, with the lovely flavor of rosemary combined with the nutty flavor of chickpeas.Add pulses to dishes you already love. Or savor the excitement of bean cuisine from around the world! Click To Tweet
What to do with Legumes?
Healthy eating patterns include pulses (lentils, chickpeas and dried beans and peas) at least three times a week…or more, as we discussed in a previous Smart Bytes®. Finding lots of different ways to enjoy them makes this a doable target.
Check these recipes from U.S. and Canadian pulse growers.
Consider the Half-Cup Habit 30-day challenge to target that goal. You’ll get free tips, menu ideas and recipes provided by U.S. and Canadian pulse growers. And for some quick meal ideas – with videos – see how to make one pot of split peas, black beans, lentils, or chickpeas, and use it four different ways.
Lentils are so economical, easy to prepare and adaptable to different dishes, they are definitely worth exploring if you’ve been largely unfamiliar with them.
- These recipes, from the growers at Canadian Lentils, zero in on the many delicious ways to use lentils.
- The Eating Well website also has recipes for lentils, including soups, meatless main dishes, and entrées that combine lentils with fish or other protein sources.
- Oldways’ tip sheet on 12 great ways to use lentils is sure to inspire you.
And even something as simple as bean soup can be made in many different delicious ways. Sharon Palmer, known as the Plant-Powered Dietitian, provides six different bean soup recipes that she and several registered dietitian nutritionist colleagues created.
California Walnuts offers plant-focused recipes for dinner, as well as salads, sides, and more. And check these recipes from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR ) for meatless entrées, too.
Bottom Line on Eating More Whole Grains and Legumes:
Whole grains and legumes provide fiber, as well as nutrients and health-protective plant compounds not found abundantly in vegetables and fruits. But knowing they’re important isn’t enough to help you change habits. So take a cooking class, check out websites like those I listed here, exchange ideas with friends, and just have fun experimenting. Including new foods can seem strange at first, but by finding ways to use these healthful foods in ways that fit your tastes and lifestyle, they’ll become habit sooner than you might imagine.
Make Smart Bytes® your community that supports healthy choices that work for you. If you’ve had some successes, please share them in the comments section below. And sign up to receive Smart Bytes ® by email so you never miss what’s ahead as I take nutrition from daunting to doableTM!
Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2016; 353 :i2716
Schwedhelm C, Boeing H, Hoffmann G, Aleksandrova K, Schwingshackl L. Effect of diet on mortality and cancer recurrence among cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Nutrition Reviews. 2016; 74(12):737-748.
Zhang FF, Liu S, John EM, Must A, Demark-Wahnefried W. Diet quality of cancer survivors and noncancer individuals: Results from a national survey. Cancer. 2015; 121: 4212–4221.
Zhang FF, Ojha RP, Krull KR. Adult Survivors of Childhood Cancer Have Poor Adherence to Dietary Guidelines. J Nutr. 2016 Dec;146(12):2497-2505.
*The Wellness Cooking Class led by Sue Czap, MS, RD, CSO, CDN, which engages people hands-on to help cancer survivors break barriers to healthy eating, is held in conjunction with Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center, with support from the Pluta Cancer Center Foundation.
** The Washington DC-based Culinary Translation Workshop I help lead is conducted as a joint effort of the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.