Welcome to 31 Days of Healthier Living!

I’m so glad you’re here! Scroll down to read Days 1 and 2…

Day 3 Not the Kind with Bubbles
Day 4 How ‘Bout Them Apples?
Day 5 Lessons from the Tree Maker
Day 6 Tips to Allergy Proof Your Home
Day 7 Antibacterial Soaps: Helpful or Not?
Day 8 Contentment
Day 9 {Appreciate}
Day 10 Gratitude Journal
Day 11 Skip the Refined Sugar
Day 12 A Creative Space
Day 13 Pick a Day
Day 14 Catch Five Minutes
Day 15 Why Homemade Chicken Stock?
Day 16 How to Make Your Own Chicken Stock
Day 17 Consider Probiotics
Day 18 A Sweet Slumber
Day 19 Declutter
Day 20 Laugh
Day 21 Relevant
Day 22 Open

path of treasure

For the next month, I’m joining other bloggers around the web (click here for more info) where we each blog about one idea each day for the next 31 days. Here, I’ll be sharing a different healthier living idea each day for you to consider. Welcome to the series!

I’m on a journey to healthier living, making new and different lifestyle choices, learning as I go, and there is so much to learn! My desire is that in the next 31 days these ideas will benefit you and inspire you to think differently and make healthier choices for yourself. I will address mostly nutrition and healthy eating, but do have some posts related to emotional and spiritual health too, because wellness encompasses each of these areas. These suggestions are ones that I have found beneficial, and they are in no way meant to substitute a health professional’s advice. Please check with your health care professional to discuss what is best for you.

Can I tell you how encouraging it is that you’re here and on the journey along with me? Immensely so, friend, and I’m sincerely looking forward to spending the next 31 days together with you! Let’s get started!

DAYS ONE and TWO: What’s in Your Cookie Jar?

This cookie jar has been in my mother's house for years... she recently gave it to me

Years ago, in elementary school, I remember learning about health and nutrition. Remember those days? Back then, we had the four basic food groups (not a pyramid, or a plate.  Click here to see the current guidelines, the plate).

One of the basic principles we were taught, even back then, was to eat a variety of foods. That same principle still applies, and I’m going to specifically address “grains” today, and give you a list of grains to try!

Did you know that wheat allergy is one of the top 8 food allergies in the United States? (source: http://americanceliac.org/celiac-disease/ )

In addition to wheat allergy, celiac disease is a genetic disorder that affects 1 in 133 Americans. (source:  http://www.celiac.com/)

Even if you are not one of those who are diagnosed with a wheat allergy, celiac disease or gluten intolerance, perhaps you know someone who does suffer from one of these ailments. Perhaps, too, you have noticed that your grocery store now has a natural or organic food section, or a “gluten-free” foods section. Restaurants are offering more gluten-free options as well.

Consider your own diet over the past two weeks, and try to think of how many of the foods you eat include wheat. If you cannot remember what you have eaten, begin taking notes today.

I was surprised to discover how much wheat I was consuming in a day. For example, a typical breakfast may include toast, bagels, cereal, pancakes or waffles (all wheat-based). Lunch could be a sandwich, with wheat bread. Dinner often included wheat in the form of pasta, or in bread. And let’s not forget the wheat in desserts or baked goods, such as cookies, cakes or muffins, or in snacks like crackers, or pretzels.

Keeping a food diary is helpful for a number of reasons, not just in identifying how much wheat or another ingredient you may be consuming. If you experience recurring stomach ailments, skin rashes, or other unexplained symptoms, you might want to consider a food allergy or intolerance as a possibility. Showing a health professional your food diary and recording all of your symptoms will make it easier to draw the connections, after skin testing or blood testing for allergies.  As always, consult a health professional for help and advice.

Now, take a look at that plate I referred to above. A significant portion of my diet was coming from grains, and much of the grain was wheat (the rest was typically rice or potatoes). How does your plate look? Are you satisfied with your plate? What about your kids’ plates?

When my youngest son was diagnosed with a wheat allergy seven years ago, I had no choice but to seek alternative grains for him– and what I learned actually benefited the whole family.

When he was first diagnosed at the age of one, he was on a strict, limited diet, and with the help of a nutritionist, his foods were “rotated”, and other grains were included– a variety of them. I couldn’t give him the same food days in a row since he was developing intolerances to one food after another. And do you know, back then, we only had a dozen foods he could eat?

After one year of a strict “rotation diet”, avoidance of all of his allergic foods (he has many), his eczema disappeared, and I no longer had to be so strict about food rotations. Still, I do attempt to offer a variety (although I no longer have to count 4 days before giving him the same food).

The nutritionist I visited told me about grains like quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, and buckwheat. I had never heard of the first four grains. It opened up an entire new world of foods for my child who could not eat wheat, and offered the rest of the family alternatives to wheat. (Sometimes, I wonder– would we still be eating mostly wheat, rice and potatoes? Would I know to include more whole grains?)

{What is a whole grain? Click here to learn more about whole grains. }

A whole grain drink-- an alternative to dairy or rice milk

These other grains are packed in nutrition. Below I list a few of these grains and their nutritional value:

1) Quinoa Seeds and Flour. Quinoa is in the Goosefoot or Beet family (Chenopodiaceae). Foods in this family are amaranth, beet, chard, spinach, sugar beet, and quinoa. Quinoa is high in protein. A 1/4 Cup serving (dry) contains 6 grams of protein. To cook, rinse the seeds in a sieve until the water runs clear (or else the taste will be a little bitter). The seeds are cooked similar to rice. Quinoa is receiving quite a bit of attention lately so finding it shouldn’t be too difficult, and search online for recipes. I’ve tried both the red and white seeds, though the white are more commonly available where I live. I use it just as I would use rice, or if having a vegetarian meal, since it is high in protein. In flour form, it is often combined with tapioca starch; follow recipe instructions for baked goods when using quinoa flour as it can be a little dry. I found my quinoa baked goods to be a little bitter, and I think it is because the flour wasn’t fresh. Typically nowadays, I use the seeds mainly, although I used to bake cookies, cakes and cornbread with quinoa.

2) Millet Seeds. Millet is a non-gluten grain. I tend to use the seeds since baked goods turn out too crumbly and fall apart. It is cooked similar to rice, but the proportions I use are 3 cups water (or chicken stock for flavor) to 1 cup dry millet. 1/8 Cup millet (dry) contains 3 grams of protein. I usually eat as I would rice.

3) Buckwheat Groats and Flour. Contrary to its name, buckwheat is not a wheat, nor is it a grass; rather, it is the seed of the fruit of a plant. The groats can be ground into flour (which I’ve read can be done in a blender, but I’ve not tried it yet myself). I’ve used buckwheat as a hot cereal in the morning, and have found it works excellently in baked goods. Nutritionally, 1/4 cup of the dry flours contains 4 grams of protein, and it is high in iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and more, and is a great source of dietary fiber– one cup of groats contains about 17 grams of dietary fiber (source:  http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/theglutenfreediet/qt/BuckwheatQT.htm). Plus, it tastes good! (If you want to read more about the health benefits of buckwheat and studies involving cholesterol, blood sugar, gall stones, and more, click here: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=11)

For additional variety, I also include the following in our diet:

4) Rye Flour.  Rye is not gluten-free. But since my son is allergic to wheat, and not gluten, we have been able to use rye flour to make pancakes and cookies, which is a nice option, since it bakes nicely. Sometime in the future I will try making rye bread.

5) Oat Flour. Oats can be ground in your own blender, which is what I typically do. Just put the oats in your blender and turn on! It is much less expensive than buying oat flour. I’ve used oats in cookies and breads (banana bread, etc.) quite successfully and they taste wonderful.

Here are oats I ground in my blender

6) Cornmeal. If you are not allergic to corn (corn is a cereal grass), don’t forget to include cornmeal. I’ve used it as a breakfast hot cereal and in cornbread. It’s another option to include in a diet that has a variety of grains.

7) Brown Rice and Brown Rice Flour. I prefer brown rice to white rice (although we do eat white rice at home, as well) because it is healthier and has more fiber. But did you know the flour can be used in baking? I’ve used it for cookies and pie crust, but it needs to be mixed with other flours. It has no gluten, so it will not rise like wheat.

Brown rice pastas are readily available now, making it easier to substitute for wheat pasta

You want more? There’s more! Here are some more grains, most of which I have used or do use:

Amaranth Flour. An ancient grain, not related to other grains, and higher in protein than any other grain, has B vitamins, calcium, iron and other minerals. Mix this flour in combination with other flours for the best results.

Teff Flour. I’ve used teff flour successfully to make cookies and pancakes. It has a slight nutty but pleasing taste. It is richer in iron, calcium and potassium than any other true grain (source: The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook, Jones, p. 17)

Ground Flax Seeds. I keep a bag in the freezer and will add a tablespoon or two in whatever I’m baking.

Soy, Legume and Nut Flours. These are a wonderful option to investigate if you are not allergic to any of these ingredients. Since my youngest happens to be allergic to soy, legumes and nuts, I have not personally used these in baking. (While the rest of the family can safely eat soy, nuts and legumes, I decided to focus my limited time on trying the flours and seeds that I knew all of use could safely eat.)

So, have I convinced you to try something new? 🙂 Wheat is not the only grain out there! Other very healthy options exist, and thankfully as awareness has increased, so has availability of these grains and flours. Cookbooks and recipes are accessible too (just search online for cooking with alternative and whole grains).

Don’t feel overwhelmed; start with one or two! Gradually include more. Remember to keep in mind the principle behind this is variety with nutritious choices, not to be overwhelmed by thinking that each and every one is needed to have a balanced diet.

Also, I want to mention that while I’ve made cakes, cookies, pies, brownies, pizza crusts, etc., from alternative grains, I have yet to make a sandwich type loaf of bread with any of these flours, because I just don’t have the equipment to do so. For my allergic son, I purchase ready-made, allergy-free brown rice bread, tapioca bread or rye bread from the store as his main staple of bread. (I hope to change that in the future by purchasing heavy-duty dough hooks which can mix and knead grain. It is expensive to keep purchasing the store-bought allergy-free bread, plus it isn’t the greatest tasting bread– yet, it is the only option right now! One step a time!) If you have the time and can afford the investment, a grain grinder and dough mixer are pieces of equipment to seriously consider if healthy bread-making is important to you.

So glad I found these allergy free cones. It's sure made one little boy very happy! And I'm relieved I don't have to try to make these! 🙂

And one final tip, which I learned from my mom: store your flours and seeds in the refrigerator or freezer; they will last longer. (I don’t have any scientific evidence to back this up but it does seem to help keep some flours stay fresher longer, which may not be the case if  left at room temperature).

Please note: While I’ve included links to various sites and posted pictures of various products, I have no relationship whatsoever with any of these sites or products. I list the sites simply as sources for information and the pictures of the grains or seeds as references for you. The brand name of a product (which I tried to avoid in the photos) is not meant to endorse or encourage anyone to buy that particular brand. Just have to say all this. 🙂

Finally– not all posts will be as long as this one (I just won’t have the time). And since this post was long and took quite a bit of time, and because I’m posting on Oct. 2, it’s my Day One and Two post! BUT– come back tomorrow– and we’ll talk about a versatile common household item. Don’t miss it!

Happy and healthy eating!

(Linking with other bloggers writing each day for 31 days this month, click here or here to read more– literally, choose among hundreds of great series on a multitude of topics!!)

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Have you tried any of these grains? Any grains I’ve left out? Suggestions or recipes for other readers? Share in the comments!