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ENVIRONMENTAL NUTRITION: Discover freekeh; focus on nutrients in food first

NutritionDining and DrinkingOrganic FoodsLung Cancer

Environmental Nutrition

Q. I've seen freekeh in my natural food store; what is it?

A. Freekeh is quickly becoming one of the hottest food products to hit the health food market. This ancient grain has been cultivated for centuries in Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, and is quickly gaining in popularity in the U.S. due to its powerhouse nutritional profile and versatility in the kitchen. In Arabic, freekeh means "to rub," which is fitting, as freekeh results when young wheat is subjected to a roasting and rubbing process. Typically, durum, a specific variety of wheat that is high in protein and is often used in breads and pasta, is used. While the wheat kernels develop a smoky flavor, they do not burn during roasting because of the immature seeds' high moisture content. Freekeh is a low-glycemic, high-fiber (8 grams per cup) grain, rich in protein (4 grams per cup) and other nutrients, such as eye-protecting lutein and zeaxanthin. Its mild, nutty flavor and easy preparation method -- it cooks up in 20 minutes -- makes it a wonderful substitution for brown rice and other popular whole grains. Try adding it to soups, using it in salads or side dishes, or enjoying it as a hot breakfast cereal.

--McKenzie Hall, R.D.

Q. Can taking isolated nutrients be as beneficial as getting them in foods?

A. Even if you're eating well, you might be concerned that you're missing out on something in your diet. Perhaps you've been taking a supplement of this or that to, well, supplement your diet. You're not alone. Up to half of Americans take at least one supplement daily. However, all of those supplements really might not improve your health.

Researchers noticed that smokers who ate lots of vitamin E-rich foods seemed to get lung cancer less frequently, so they studied the effects of supplementing diets with vitamin E. But soon it became apparent that the subjects who took the supplements were not being protected at all. This led scientists to realize that vitamins taken in isolation don't behave the same way in the body as vitamins taken in foods.

Foods are combinations of healthful substances -- they may be a particularly good source of one nutrient, but also may contain hundreds of other healthful substances. Some of these compounds work together, so taking one or even two as supplements can never offer the same benefit as eating real food. Sure, it's great to understand how individual nutrients in foods can help us, but it's also important to remember that these components probably work better when they are consumed as a whole food, interacting with each another.

--Sharon Salomon, M.S., R.D.

(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit http://www.environmentalnutrition.com.)

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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