Want More Energy and to Shed a few pounds?  Go with the Whole Grain!
by Jenny Brewer, MS, Certified Nutritionist

As beach volleyball players, we face an interesting dilemma.  We want lots of energy to play our best game and stay on the courts for hours on end. We know that carbohydrates provide the main source of fuel for exercising muscles and have been told that carbohydrates should be the primary focus of our diet (approximately 60-65% of total calories).

However, we also know that carrying around extra pounds acquired in the winter months doesn’t make jumping out of the sand any easier (is it ever easy?). It can be tempting to think about cutting back on carbohydrates to lose some weight.  After all, carbohydrates are a food group that is really easy to overdo, right?  Have you ever wondered….”Where the heck did the entire package of crackers go?  They were just here a minute ago!”

What if you could provide fuel to your exercising muscles and lose weight at the same time?  Good news!  It is possible if you replace the refined grains in your diet (like white flours and white rice) with whole grains.  Read on for a brief explanation of why whole grains make all the difference:

Pic of a whole grain
Source: http://stevens.wsu.edu

The above picture is of a Whole Grain.  Whole Grains contain all three parts of the grain, which are the bran, the germ and endosperm.

The outer layer of the grain is known as the bran. It’s the main source of the grain’s fiber and also has phytochemicals and minerals. This is generally stripped off of the grain and put into breakfast cereals, like bran flakes.

The germ is a significant source of B vitamins, vitamin E, antioxidants, phytochemicals and minerals. This is generally removed and sold as wheat germ.

The endosperm (center of the grain) provides complex carbohydrates in the form of starch.  This is made into flour and it is what we are consuming when we eat refined carbohydrates—like white bread, pasta and crackers.

So, what does any of this have to do with weight? Well, when you eat a refined carbohydrate (all starch, little to no nutrients) it causes a spike in blood sugar, which in turn increases your insulin levels. High insulin levels will eventually cause your blood sugar to drop. The low blood sugar equals low energy, irritable mood and food cravings. Before you know it, you're raiding the cabinets for any high carbohydrate snack you can get your hands on!  

By substituting whole grains for the refined carbohydrates in your diet, you can have energy to exercise and lose a few pounds in the process. The nutrients contained in the bran and germ of whole grains, especially fiber slows down the entrance of sugar into the blood stream, helping to regulate those sugar spikes. Plus, fiber provides a feeling of fullness so you are less likely to overeat, providing a natural portion control mechanism.

Yea! You can have your healthy whole grain cake and eat it too!  Here are some tips for adding whole grains to your diet:

  1. Be sure to buy whole grain bread. When choosing bread look for 100% whole grain as the first ingredient.  I love Alvarado Street Bread—a wonderful sprouted grain bread made with whole grains.
  2. Experiment with different whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet and barley. 
  3. If you eat pasta, purchase whole grain pastas (like brown rice or whole wheat) instead of white pasta.


To help you start experimenting with different whole grains, I have included two wonderful recipes below: a Quinoa Black Bean Salad and a Three Mushroom Barley Stew.  Both are extremely satisfying and will give you loads of energy for the long days of volleyball!  Be sure to visit my website at www.nourishingnutrition.com and enter your email to receive free recipes and information on upcoming cooking classes and healthy eating workshops.

Jennifer Brewer, MS, CNS is a Certified Nutritionist and Natural Foods Chef in Santa Cruz, CA.  She is the Culinary Educator at New Leaf Community Markets.  You can find her online at www.nourishingnutrition.com.

Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
Serves 4-6

Quinoa Rocks! Quinoa is a whole grain that is a complete protein (meaning it has all 8 essential amino acids), is gluten free and cooks in 15 minutes. This salad is loaded with healthy carbohydrates, fueling your muscles for long days of beach volleyball!! You can find quinoa in the bulk section at your favorite Natural Food Store.

1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed well
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
4 scallions, sliced
1 15-oz can black beans, drained
1 red bell pepper, diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

In a saucepan, boil water and add quinoa, lower heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

In a bowl, combine oil, lemon juice, cumin, chili powder, cilantro and scallions. Pour over quinoa and stir in beans and peppers, mixing thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and refrigerate until service. Right before serving, stir in pumpkin seeds.


Three Mushroom and Barley Stew
Serves 4-6

This hearty earthy stew is like wintertime in a bowl!  I love the following combination of mushrooms, but use any mushrooms or combination you like.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pound portabello mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup red wine
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 leek, sliced
2 teaspoons arrowroot dissolved in 1/4 cup water or vegetable stock
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup barley
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Pour the oil into a large saucepan over medium heat.  Saute the mushrooms until they begin to release liquid, about 3-5 minutes.  Add shallots, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and sauté for another 3 minutes.  Add the red wine and simmer for 3 minutes or until mushrooms have soaked up liquid.

Add remaining ingredients, except balsamic vinegar, and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until barley is cooked, about 30 minutes and stew is thickened.  Before serving, stir in vinegar.  Serve this stew with hearty whole grain bread.   

For more great information and recipes, see Jenny's website at: http://www.nourishingnutrition.com/



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