We were grilled at school on the need for a balanced diet. We received marks for jotting down the names of a long list of cereals that make up a balanced diet. But when we began to cook, rice and wheat seem to be the only cereals we could think of. Whatever happened to maize, barley, millets, ragi, oats and the other cereals?

These cereals have been relegated to the bottom of our menu. Consider malt extract, for instance. A key ingredient in packaged health drinks, malt extract is made from sprouted barley grains. As for its nutritive value, a 100 gm of wholegrain barley has 10.5 gm of protein, 2.1 gm of fat, 69.3 gm of carbohydrate, 4 gm of fibre, 50 mg of folic acid, 6 mg of iron and 50 mg of calcium. So you could add powdered barley to your kanji or porridge, rather than consume a minuscule portion of it in the form of popular hot beverages. Likewise, maize (corn) is rich in protein with a 100 gm of maize containing 9 gm of protein. Millets such as kambu and thinai provide 6.8 mg of iron per 100 gram of the grain — higher than other cereals. Oats is another nutritious cereal, with 100 gm of oats containing 13 gm of protein and 55 mg of calcium.

Wholesome

To make the most of grains, go in for whole grain foods, which are made from the whole kernels of grain (both the inside part of a grain and its outer covering). “Processing removes the outer covering of a particular grain giving it a white, shiny look, but it also removes much of the dietary fibre, minerals such as selenium and folate, and most of the health-promoting phytochemicals from it,” says senior dietician Geetha Krishnan. Whole grains should be washed thoroughly. Sprout them and their nutritional value increases manifold. Whole grain or brown rice is rich in B vitamins. And a 100 gm of whole wheat has 14 gm of protein, 2.2 gm of fat, 69.1 gm of carbohydrate, 2.3 gm of fibre, 3.1 mg of iron, and 36 mg of calcium.

That is not to say that we should do away with wheat and rice. “Try to incorporate a variety of cereals, especially oats, ragi and whole grains into your meal,” recommends Nirmala Jesudason, dietician. She adds, “When it comes to rice, parboiled rice is better than polished raw rice, because parboiled rice retains the B vitamins.”

Including a variety of cereals and whole grain foods in the diet can lower the risk of diseases such as heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes and diverticular disease. Oats, being rich in dietary fibre, helps prevent constipation and digestive disorders and manage cholesterol levels. Barley water is said to relieve urinary problems. “Whole grains are rich in fibre, so your stomach feels full on consuming them; and this might help manage obesity,” adds Geetha.

Substitute staples

But, consuming oatmeal porridge everyday doesn't sound inviting. The trick lies in substitution, rather than addition, as you can't consume too much of grains (cereals especially). So, try whole grain or brown bread instead of white, oat meal or whole grain breakfast cereals instead of refined cereals, brown rice instead of white rice, and so on. As Nirmala puts it, “While these cereals can be made into unique dishes, the challenge lies in incorporating them into our traditional dishes such as idli, dosa and chapatti.” Oats can be incorporated into dosa batter too, she says. And you might try oats payasam, instead of semia!

Add soy flour, ragi flour, even a little methi powder (fried lightly and ground) to wheat flour (atta). Include a sprinkling of barley in the dal you cook for sambar. Use soy flour or oats to thicken soups and sambar, rather than rice powder. Snack on steamed or roasted corn, sundal or even popcorn rather than on biscuits; incorporate ragi powder into your rava dosa batter. Incidentally, some bakeries make ragi biscuits too. However, people with gluten intolerance or coeliac disease must avoid cereals containing gluten such as barley. And a word about storing cereals. Store them in airtight containers in a cool, dark and dry place.

FOOD FACTS

* Incorporate as many cereals as possible, especially oats, ragi and barley, in your diet.

* Don't add to the total cereal volume that you consume. Substitute staple cereals with other varieties whenever possible.

* Go in for whole grains; processing removes much of the vital nutrients.

* Parboiled rice is nutritionally richer than polished raw rice.

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