Posted on May 2, 2014
Written by Sarah Ellis, MS, RD
When describing human characteristics I think we would all agree that intense curiosity about ‘the best’ of things is one most Americans could claim. Think about our obsession with discovering the ‘best’ new phone app or the ‘best’ current movie or even the ‘best’ sports drink. We, as Americans, love to feel as though we are on the cutting edge of new knowledge, especially when it comes to food and health.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the current focus on fiber in foods; occurring naturally or being added. It seems we should all agree that fiber is a good thing, right? However, I would suggest that focusing on a single food component like fiber is as short sighted as most of the other exclusionary food trends we have seen, such as the quest for sugar-free foods, low-fat foods, calorie free foods and vitamin enhanced (calorie-free, sugar-free) beverages.
By focusing on a single food component to enhance health, one misses the point. More to the point, one misses the opportunity to optimize food choices to truly enhance health in a reliable, scientifically supported way.
In nature, nothing happens in a vacuum. The same goes for establishing a healthful diet; no single nutrient is going to achieve that; nutrients work together within whole foods to deliver their best benefits. When you take something out of its environment, such as isolating fiber, it cannot convey the full benefit it would have otherwise. Fiber has a role in good health specifically because of its role among other nutrients, phytochemicals, antioxidants, etc. occurring together in food.
Good sources of fiber also happen to be good sources of vitamins and minerals, and when combined with a variety of other fiber rich foods, are also good sources of plant protein. Dried beans, whole grains and seeds offer a symphony of important nutrients as well as flavor, texture and satiety. My favorite winter ‘fast food’ is a bean and grain salad that I make with whatever vegetables are fresh and reasonably priced in the grocery store, combined with whatever bean and grain I feel like eating, from the staples in my pantry. Often I’ll add toasted sesame or pumpkin seeds if I have them. Mustard-laced homemade vinaigrette or simply a drizzle of olive oil and fresh lemon juice dress the salad very well. This is my ‘fast food’ because a large bowl of bean and grain salad will last several days and be hearty enough for lunch or dinner at a moment’s notice.
The salad pictured was made with small black beans, wheat berries, sesame seeds, blanched broccoli, celery, fresh green and red bell peppers, and red onions. However, you can use any beans you like; pinto, small white northern, Jacob’s cattle or red kidney are some that work well and taste great. Instead of wheat berries you might like to use quinoa, bulgur, wild rice or couscous. Almost any vegetables you and your family like will be good in this salad; use your favorites. You can add dressing to the salad as you are making it or just before you serve it. Additional flavor could come from fresh herbs, salt, or pepper.
To keep this process simple, soak the beans and grains in separate bowls the night before you need them. They can sit in the soaking water until you’re ready to cook. Alternatively, use canned beans and a quick cooking grain like quinoa. This is a one-dish meal you cannot go wrong with. Give your taste buds and imagination free rein and your whole body will respond with a smile!