The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

August 31, 2015 | Oldways Table

Since 2005, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have encouraged all of us to "make at least half our grains whole." But are we listening? According to new data from the Oldways Whole Grains Council's 2015 Whole Grains Consumer Insights Survey, the answer is a resounding yes: nearly two-thirds of Americans say they're making half or more of their grains whole.

With the help of SSI (Survey Sampling International), we reached out to 1,510 U.S. adults from July 27 to August 3, 2015. Our goal was to answer some of the key questions journalists ask us day in and day out: "How has whole grain consumption changed since 2010?"… "What percentage of people have stopped eating gluten?"… "How do consumers actually use the Whole Grain Stamp?"… and more. The responses – highlighted below – were fascinating.

Whole Grain Consumption is Up

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) have increased whole grain consumption "some" or "a lot" in the last five years. Useful to know, since the most recent official USDA data are from 2010.
  • Almost one-third of respondents (31%) say they nearly always choose whole grains. Five years ago, only 4% would have said this.
  • Another third (32%) choose whole grains about half the time. Combined with the "nearly always" group, this makes 63% making half or more of their grains whole, in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • We eat about 37% of our whole grains at breakfast, 27% at dinner, 22% at lunch, and just 14% as snacks. One possible reason? It's often harder to find whole grains outside of the home, where most lunches and snacks are generally eaten.

Why We Choose Whole Grains ...

  • Nearly 9 out of 10 (86%) of those who consume whole grains do so for the health benefits. It's not surprising that most people realize whole grains are healthier.
  • Four in 10 (40%) choose whole grains because they enjoy the taste. Used to be, way back, that taste was at best a neutral factor. Now it's becoming a real motivator!

And Why We Don't

  • Cost was named as the leading barrier to eating more whole grains (39%). Unfortunately, many whole grains – especially breads – cost more than refined grains.
  • Some folks aren't yet accustomed to the fuller, nuttier taste of whole grains (37%). But we're glad to see those who prefer the taste of whole grains (40%) are beginning to pull ahead!
  • Availability can also be a barrier (28%), especially since many restaurants don't offer whole grain choices.

Gluten Confusion Continues

  • Few fully understand gluten. While more than 1 in 3 correctly identify gluten as a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and 1 in 5 know it makes dough rise, only 4% correctly selected both (and no other options). Although 96% didn't know the complete answer, only 25% picked "Don't know." Other wrong answers chosen? "It's a dangerous carbohydrate." (8%)... "It's an unnatural substance found in genetically modified (GMO) grains." (11%)... and "It's a substance that makes you gain weight." (11%)
  • 21% incorrectly think gluten is in all grains. In fact, gluten free doesn't mean grain free – even those following a gluten-free diet can enjoy grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff, and wild rice.
  • 93% eat gluten some or all of the time. Of the 7% who completely avoid gluten, only 1 in 5 has a medically-diagnosed problem with gluten. The bottom line: only 1.5% have a medical reason to avoid gluten completely -- a number very much in line with experts' estimates of celiac disease in the general population.

We Know What We Like -- and Like What We Know

  • Old favorites -- whole wheat, oats, and brown rice -- are most popular with Americans. 9 out of 10 have heard of these three whole grains, and most have eaten them.
  • Despite all the attention paid to "exotic" grains, fewer than 1 in 5 has heard of (let alone tasted!) spelt, farro, amaranth, Kamut®, or teff. We always remind folks that, just as eating a variety of vegetables is healthier, eating a variety of grains is good too -- since each one has its own health benefits!
  • When asked to name their one favorite whole grain food, the top choice was whole wheat bread (31%), followed by oatmeal (27%) and then a tie between popcorn and whole grain cold cereal (15% each). Whole grain pasta was the favorite of 8%.
  • In fact, whole grain bread and whole grain cereal (hot and cold) are the two foods most likely to be eaten in whole grain form by Americans.

The Whole Grain Stamp is Known and Trusted

  • 49% of people are aware of the Whole Grain Stamp.
  • Eight out of ten (82%) trust the Whole Grain Stamp to accurately state a products' whole grain content.
  • 79% say the Whole Grain Stamp would make them more likely to buy a product; about half of these would also consider sugar, sodium, and other product factors.
  • About half (51%) say they would question a product's claims about whole grains if they did not see the Whole Grain Stamp.
What are your favorite whole grains and whole grain foods? How often do you choose whole grains? We'd love to hear how you would have responded to this survey! -- Cynthia
August 27, 2015 | Oldways Table

Researchers at Food for Health Ireland are the latest group seeking to debunk the myth that cheese is bad for your health. Along with other researchers in Europe, they are poking into the outdated science that claims all saturated and trans fatty acids in cheese lead to coronary diseases. In fact, researchers working at the University College Dublin are seeking interested participants to join a study on the impact of cheese in healthy diets.

A body of science-based research is starting to present a more nuanced understanding of different foods, including cheese. In a 2008 study conducted by Dr. Barbara Walther and others at Agroscope, the Swiss Federal agriculture, food, and environmental research organization published its findings on the nutritional and health aspects of including cheese in moderate amounts in our diets.

When it comes to the question of trans fats, the study explains, “Trans fatty acids, especially those of industrial origin, have been accused of enhancing the risk of coronary heart disease. Studies that investigate a possible similar effect of ruminant [naturally-occurring] trans fatty acids did not support this hypothesis: in contrast, a neutral and even slightly negative correlation was observed both in men and women.” In plain English: the small amounts of natural trans-fats in dairy seem to have very different effects on health than man-made industrial trans-fats.

Furthermore, when addressing the issue of saturated fats, the researchers found that not all saturated fatty acids are created equal and “individual saturated fatty acids influence blood cholesterol level differently. In addition, some play an important role in cell regulation by protein modification (acetylation), in gene expression as well as in the modulation of genetic regulation…” 

What this tells us is that cheese remains a good, healthy food. The same research from Switzerland points out that, “The high concentration of essential amino acids in cheese contributes to growth and development of the human body.” Plus, cheese is rich in calcium and proteins that give us healthy bones and energy.

This is why, here at Oldways, we include cheese as part of our traditional Mediterranean Diet and enjoy talking about all its benefits. As always, moderation is important. Small portions and variety will ensure that you take advantage of all the benefits associated with artisan cheese.

If you want to find out more about the health benefits of cheese, or other academic research on the topic, make sure to visit the Oldways Cheese Coalition website and join as a member to get news and information.

~ Carlos Yescas, Oldways Cheese Coalition

August 25, 2015 | Oldways Table

As summer comes to a close and we begin to think about the fall, sweet potatoes are on my mind. Well, actually, they’re always on my mind (and on my plate) because they are one of my favorite foods. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Pureed, mashed, roasted or baked, there are as many ways to enjoy their nutritious goodness and sweet, deep flavor as there are months in a year.  It’s no wonder that sweet potatoes have been part of American culture, and a part of cuisines around the world, for centuries.
  • Did you know there are hundreds of types of sweet potatoes, ranging from mild white to deep super-sweet red? Not only is there a nuanced difference in taste, there is variety in texture, too. So if you are looking for a potato that is creamy and fluffy, a white tater is best; for a dense, caramelized flavor, try deep orange or red.
  • In addition to great flavor and texture, sweet potatoes deliver on nutrition, too, providing vitamins A and C, fiber and antioxidants, while being low in calories. For those who are diagnosed with diabetes, sweet potatoes are low on the glycemic index and may play a role in lowering blood sugar.

Is that a Yam or a Sweet Potato?

Choosing a proper sweet potato is fairly easy (look for potatoes that are firm to the touch and show no indication of decay). But what about those signs in the grocery stores calling them yams? Although a bit confusing, what we generally see in the grocery store are sweet potatoes that have been labeled as yams. This fun and informative quiz explains why.

Whether you are a sweet potato aficionado or a spud novice you are sure to find something new in our Sweet Potatoes Toolkit sponsored by the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. You will find tips on prepping and cooking along with lots of recipes and ideas for every month of the year!

~ Deborah Plunkett, Program Manager,
   Oldways Nutrition Exchange

August 20, 2015 | Oldways Table

For her final A Taste of African Heritage (ATOAH) lesson this summer at Unity Health Clinic Parkside, D.C. instructor LaShell Staples asked her students to bring in their favorite dishes from the curriculum, creating an ATOAH potluck celebration.  Students brought a number of dishes they’d learned about, including Caribbean red beans, sweet potato Mafe stew, brown rice, a cucumber and spinach salad, and fresh mango with coconut dessert.  Adding a scoop of each dish to their plates, LaShell’s students created the perfect picture of what a healthy heritage plate can look like.  We wanted to share some tips on building your own heritage plates at home!  

A Taste of African Heritage Graduates at Unity Health Clinic Parkside

Building a healthy heritage plate is so much fun and allows you to be as creative as you like, with many different kinds of traditional ingredients to choose from. Whether you’re preparing a Greek- or Thai- or Nigerian-inspired meal, a healthy heritage plate bursts with colors, regional flavors, and plant-based foods.  

Steps to Building A Healthy Heritage Plate

Pick your vegetables and leafy greens. Steamed, sautéed, roasted, grilled or raw, enjoy vegetables in larger portions to the other parts of your plate. Add leafy greens, as part of a vegetable medley or as their own side. If you’re grabbing seconds, go for the veggies!

Choose your whole grain or tuber. Neutral-flavored whole grains and tubers make wonderful, filling bases for whatever you’re cooking. Making bok choy tonight? Boil up a pot of rice noodles, Jasmine brown rice, or Japanese yams to make an Asian-inspired meal. Or are you charring okra and peppers? Put on a pot of millet or mash sweet potatoes for an African heritage meal. Whether you’re roasting eggplant or sautéing cabbage, whole grain pasta, quinoa, millet, brown or wild rice, farro, noodles, and spelt are just a few of the whole grain vehicles you can choose from to carry flavorful sauces, vegetables, beans, and other ingredients. *Start these items first, as they take the longest time, but cook themselves and need little attention.  Get everything else prepared while your grains or tubers cook.

Make beans a regular protein staple. Sauté rinsed canned beans with garlic, olive oil and your favorite spices, to make dishes like Oldways Spicy Chickpeas. Or cook up a big pot of dried beans and store them in your refrigerator to reheat throughout the week. When preparing meats, use lean cuts and smaller amounts (about half the size of your palm), and opt for fish and fresh seafood whenever possible.

Add a simple salad or pickle. Salads don’t have to be lettuce-driven only. A salad can use just about any raw vegetable you like, the simpler the better as part of a meal. If you have radishes or cucumbers on hand, marinate them in a splash of olive oil, an acid (vinegar or fresh citrus juice), and a pinch of salt, to serve chilled as one of your plate items. 

Enjoy fruit for dessert. Along with many important vitamins, fruit contains enzymes that help us digest. Slice up your favorite fruits, dust with a chopped nuts, and drizzle with a few tablespoons of coconut milk. Chill while you eat, and enjoy at the end!    

And, voila! You can create a robust, healthy heritage plate, boasting so many different flavors, nutrients and cultural flavors, in less than 20 minutes every day. 

Join us for more heritage plate sharing at our A Taste of African Heritage Facebook Group or join a class happening near you.  Our 4-Week Diet Menu Plans also offer wonderful guides on putting Oldways’ Mediterranean and Vegetarian & Vegan traditional diet pyramids into practice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.   

Many thanks to the University of the District of Columbia’s Center for Nutrition, Diet and Health (CNDH) for making LaShell’s D.C.-based class possible. 

~ Sarah McMackin, The African Heritage & Health Program


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