Improve your health with tasty whole grains

The benefits of eating whole grains are many.

Three servings a day lower the risk of stroke, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer. Eating whole grains also helps people maintain a healthy body weight along with a lower body mass index (BMI), less abdominal fat and smaller waistlines.

Whole grains also help prevent inflammation; therefore, eating them helps fight off the diseases of aging.

We’ve known for a long time that consuming fermented foods like yogurt add healthy bacteria to the digestive tract, but did you know that whole grains are what those good bacteria need to eat in order to thrive? That’s something I learned when I picked up a copy of “The Whole Grain Promise” by Robin Asbell.

Whole grains are also more flavorful than highly refined white flour — different whole grains can taste slightly nutty, earthy, spicy or even have grassy or floral notes.

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Most grocery stores now carry a wide selection of whole grains, such as barley, buckwheat, oats, teff, quinoa, millet, and, of course, one of my very favorites — cornmeal.

CRANBERRY CORNMEAL UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

Serves 10

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen

1 cup medium-grind cornmeal

¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup canola oil

1 large egg

¾ cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrap an 11-inch round springform pan with foil so that if any butter leaks out, it won’t burn in the oven. Put the butter in the pan and place the pan in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes as the oven heats up. Remove from the oven and tilt the pan to cover evenly with melted butter. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly in the pan and distribute the cranberries evenly over that. Reserve.

In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, granulated sugar, zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the canola oil, egg, yogurt and vanilla.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring until well combined. Scrape the batter evenly over the cranberries in the pan.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs but no raw batter on it.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan on a rack. Place a plate over the cake, and holding them together firmly, flip to invert the cake onto the plate. If any topping stays in the pan, quickly pick it out with a butter knife and fill it in any gaps on the cake. Let cool completely before serving.

Keeps for 1 week, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

Our assessment: One of my colleagues who has been familiar with my cooking for more than 20 years had a piece of this cake and said, “This is the best thing you’ve ever made!” The sturdy texture of the cornbread makes it a perfect base for the sweet and buttery cranberry topping, and the flavors are rich and comforting. It is a beautiful cake for the holidays. Consider serving it instead of pecan or pumpkin pie. It’s quite heavenly with a little scoop of peppermint ice cream on the side.

From the book: “The Whole Grain Promise: More Than 100 Delicious Recipes to Jumpstart a Healthier Diet” by Robin Asbell; 224 pages, $20. Published by Running Press, 2015.

What you get: This book has you covered for meals, breads, quick snacks and desserts. I want to try Farro with Celmentines and Yogurt Dressing; Cherry-almond Quick Bread; Beet and Buckwheat Borscht with Parsley-yogurt Garnish; and Pecan and Barley Burgers with Peach Ketchup.

The book also includes a whole grains glossary along with tips.

In her own words: “This book is going to make whole grains so easy and appealing that you won’t be able to imagine life without them. With grains, crave-worthy, intensely gratifying food that nourishes you deeply is an everyday miracle.” — Robin Asbell

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