Selection of gluten free products.
Selection of gluten free products.
Image: 123rf.com/Milkos

Greek dramatist Euripides wrote in the fourth Century BC in his Orestes that “a change is always nice”. Aphra Behn agreed, and in 1681 wrote in The Rover that “variety is the soul of pleasure”. English poet William Cowper modified this to a version we are more accustomed to in 1785 in his work The Task. He wrote: “Variety is the spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.”

Variety is, indeed, the spice of life. Imagine we lived in New Zealand or Norway, or even Switzerland? Everything presumably works and week in, week out and one knows what to expect. But where’s the spice? Capitec CEO Gerrie Fourie said recently: “You can go to Switzerland where everything works but there’s no opportunity. Or you can go to SA where nothing works but there’s plenty of opportunity.”

SA is anything but predictable. We build up and burn down with reckless abandon and anyone who predicts anything is making stuff up. It certainly keeps us on our toes. We expect disappointment as much as we expect miracles.

The first time I embarked on a physical transformation journey, my diet was a bit like Switzerland. It comprised chicken breasts and hake, rice, broccoli, and garden salads. It worked in as much as my body changed. But one day, sitting in the common area of the old Times Media building in Rosebank eating my steamed hake and rice while colleagues ate wonderful take-outs from the mall across the parking lot, a solitary tear rolled down my cheek. I had a lump in my throat, and it was more than the chewy hake.

I fell off that wagon.

Cycling carbohydrate intake may be a swear word to some, but, honestly, it has kept the love handles at bay for a long time in this household.

So why is it easier to eat well now? The simple answer is that I have a partner who changed how I see food. Every meal is made to taste exciting, even the ones slapped together in a few minutes because of a crazy life schedule. Over the last few years, I have come to learn that living like this does not require a degree in culinary delights, rather it is premised on variety and flavour. Variety feeds the body and the soul.

Let’s take rice, for example. I love it. Jasmine rice has a place in our cupboard, as does Basmati, long grain, and wild rice. These are all full of flavours and can fit into a healthy diet quite comfortably. Unless, of course, you eat rice every day. Then it becomes boring at best, and a grudge meal at worst.

We often hear about the need to switch up protein sources, but what about something like rice? Or pasta? We know many people eat many portions of pasta every week. What could you eat instead that offers variety, may well contain fewer calories, and is packed with other goodness?

A selection of grains: quinoa, brown rice, millet, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, sorghum.
A selection of grains: quinoa, brown rice, millet, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, sorghum.
Image: 123RF / Marek Uliasz

Here are three alternatives to rice: quinoa, bulgur wheat and barley. Besides added goodness, switching things up may assist with going down a belt size, if that’s your goal.

Merely trying something new adds variety, but how you prepare these dishes also adds spice. These alternatives need not form the foundation of a meal, nor do they require being served as a portion on a plate. Having a salad, with some quinoa sprinkled over the leaves adds texture and flavour, while ensuring protein from another plant source makes its way into your diet. Bulgur wheat sprinkled over salad adds colour and an earthy flavour. It turns the boring into something special, instantly.

You don’t need to have a carbohydrate at every meal. Let the people who prescribe laws go prescribe them elsewhere. If you are not following something like the Banting diet, no one says you have to eat starch every time you open your mouth. Cycling carbohydrate intake may be a swear word to some, but, honestly, it has kept the love handles at bay for a long time in this household.

1. Quinoa

This superfood looks and tastes like a grain, but it is a seed, packing double the protein punch that one would get from rice, making it a useful source for vegetarians as it is a complete protein. Even if you eat meat, quinoa provides a good alternative source to get more of the muscle-making amino acids we need.

White quinoa grains.
White quinoa grains.
Image: 123rf.com/Subbotina

2. Bulgur wheat

This is my favourite, a whole-wheat meal that looks a bit like couscous but is not a type of pasta made from wheat flour, as is couscous. Bulgur wheat is, to put it simply, little cracked pieces of whole-wheat grains. Delicious as a rice substitute under a curry in the cold weather, it contains 25% fewer calories than white rice, according to Healthline.

Bulgur wheat.
Bulgur wheat.
Image: 123rf.com/Joana Wnuk

3. Barley

The most recent addition to our household is barley, which looks like oats but is more closely related to wheat and rye. It is chewier than bulgur wheat. According to Healthline, half a cup of barley provides 10% of the daily value of vitamin B3, zinc and selenium, which is said to be a potent antioxidant with other health benefits too.

Cooked peeled barley grains.
Cooked peeled barley grains.
Image: 123rf.com/Shersor

If you have food allergies or are sensitive to wheat, for example, then don’t eat wheat. This is 2021 and Google is your friend.

Variety in meals makes them worth eating. There is little point in adopting a health-conscious approach to your diet if you don’t like what you are putting in your mouth, or if it is so mundane and boring that you lose your will to wake up in the morning. Shop around, and stock your cupboards with variety.

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