Add Whole Grains

The fourth challenge is to eat three more servings of whole grains each day. We clarify the definitions and decode the labels so you will know exactly what you're eating and, well, approximately how much. Is "brown" bread whole-grain? Well, sometimes...

Healthy Habits Hero: Mark Bittman

"There's nothing easier than cooking whole grains." - Mark Bittman, NY Times food writer, Cooking Light columnist, and author of many books, including How To Cook Everything—The Basics, New York

Mark Bittman

Healthy Habits Hero: Mark Bittman

Photo: Virgil Bastos

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Mark Bittman has always been a whole grains guy, but he really began to embrace them about 10 years ago while working on his cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. "I had no intention of becoming a vegetarian," he recalls, "but I embraced the concept and started playing around with whole grains more. I became more intentional about eating them." Nowadays, Bittman has no problem getting in his three-per-day minimum, and he thinks he may know why others aren't as successful at reaching this goal. "The misconception that whole grains are hard to cook or that they take a long time probably keeps a lot of people from trying them." Here, he debunks these myths and offers a few suggestions for making grains easy to add to your daily menu.


  • Learn how to cook one grain, and you know how to cook them all. "One thing that makes whole grains really easy is that they pretty much all cook the same way. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, they all get boiled until they're tender. If you boil them in too much water and they get tender, you drain the water off; if you boil them in too little water and they're not tender, add a little more water. There's nothing easier."
  • Cook in batches for meals in a minute. "Once or twice a week I usually boil a batch of whole grains, pack them into a Tupperware container, and stick it in my refrigerator. Just dip into that stash when you want to add some chew, flavor, and fiber to your meal."
  • Substitute grains for meat. "It's fine to make polenta or brown rice pilaf and have them next to what you're eating for dinner—but I think they're equally good stirred into existing dishes, such as chilis, vegetable soups, or stews. Whole grains in soups and stews, even in nominal amounts, add a nice, meaty element. I recently made a vegetarian chili using wheat berries instead of meat. It was terrific."
  • Explore the variety of grains. "I feel the same way about whole grains as I do about legumes: If you have this stuff on hand, you'll wind up eating it. I think wheat berries are sensational, likewise farro, kamut, and spelt. There are so many choices—long-grain brown rice, short-grain brown rice, basmati brown rice—and it's nice to have variety. Play around and see what you like."
  • Start every day with oatmeal. "One way to guarantee eating one whole grain every day is to have oatmeal. I've always been fascinated by Asian food, and Asian breakfasts in particular, so when I have oatmeal, I mix it with dried mushrooms, chopped celery, scallions, and soy sauce. I really like a savory breakfast. When people are repelled by that, I remind them that bacon and eggs are savory also. They just don't think of it that way."

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