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Originally published Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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The Diet Detective

Add bulgur and sorghum to a healthful eating plan

Bulgur and sorghum are two grains that contribute to healthful eating

Special to The Seattle Times

This is part of a continuing series on the health benefits of grains that you might not have tried. The first in the series focuses on bulgur and sorghum.

Bulgur

What it is: Bulgur is not actually a plant — it's a Middle Eastern way of preparing wheat that maintains almost all the bran and germ of the wheat kernel, which is why it's considered a whole grain.

Texture: Pleasant. Soft without being mushy.

Tastes like: Bulgur has a mild, nutty flavor somewhat between white rice and brown rice. It's a great "starter grain" for people just branching out beyond refined grains.

Nutritional information: (1 cup cooked) 151 calories, 0.44g fat, 33.82g carbs, 8.2g dietary fiber, 5.61g protein.

Health perks: The fiber is off the charts: 33 percent of the daily value, making it an excellent source. There are also 98 micrograms of lutein, plus zeaxanthin (important for eye health).

Best served or cooked with: "Fine grains are used in such dishes as kibbe, which is a mixture of bulgur and meat or poultry. The fine grains do well in dishes with meats because they adhere well to the meat. Medium-size grains are used for various salads and in making tabbouleh. The third size, which is coarser and larger, is best used in pilafs," says Dr. Michael D. Ozner, author of "The Miami Mediterranean Diet" (BenBella Books, 2008).

Sorghum

What it is: "Sorghum is now used here in the U.S. as the basis for several brands of gluten-free beer, but it also makes wonderful baked goods," says Carol Fenster, author of "Gluten-Free Quick & Easy" (Avery/Penguin Group, 2007).

Sorghum is an ancient grain that originated in Africa and then went to India and the Middle East. "Despite its use in Africa as a staple human food, in the U.S. it was mostly used as animal feed. It grows well in hot climates and does not require a rich soil," says Julie Miller Jones, a professor of nutrition at College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, Minn.

It can be hard to find in stores, but whole-grain sorghum can be ordered directly from a grower at www.twinvalleymills.com, suggests Fenster.

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Texture: When cooked, it is very chewy and hearty, much like bulgur.

Tastes like: Some of the dark varieties have a stronger, more bitter taste. The light varieties taste like quinoa or millet or some rice pilafs. However, according to Fenster, "Many gluten-free people think that this grain tastes the closest to wheat. It has a mild, slightly earthy flavor that won't interfere with other foods."

Nutritional information: (1/4 cup) 163 calories, 1.58g fat, 35.82g carbs, 3g dietary fiber, 5.42g protein.

Health perks: This is a perfect gluten-free whole grain for those with celiac disease (those who are allergic to gluten). "Some varieties are very high in antioxidants. It also contains a waxy compound called a polycosinol, which lowers serum cholesterol," says Jones.

Best served or cooked with: The whole grains should be soaked overnight to soften them before cooking in water, says Jones. It makes a wonderful substitute for bulgur or wheat berries, says Fenster, and it can be used like couscous for a delicious mix of whole grain, vegetables and meat. It can even be eaten like popcorn.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public-health advocate, founder and editor of DietDetective.com,

the online source for nutrition, fitness, food, diet and wellness information.Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter and iTunes podcast at www.DietDetective.com.

Copyright 2008, Charles Stuart Platkin

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