On average, Americans eat fewer than one serving of whole grains per day and far too many refined grains. The problem may be that many of us don’t know what constitutes a “whole grain.” Here’s a good place to start: Eating whole grains in their natural state is generally better than getting your quota from grain-based products like bread or pasta, even when these products are made from whole grain or whole-wheat flour (i.e., refined grains).
Whole Vs. Refined
Although both types of grains – whole and refined – are good sources of carbohydrates and are low in fat, whole grains are better sources of fiber and much-needed nutrients like selenium, potassium, and magnesium. That’s because whole grains contain all three parts of a grain: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. The bran encompasses dietary fiber, a source of B vitamins, and certain race minerals. The germ is the embryo of the seed, which has B vitamins and vitamin E, essential fatty acids, phytonutrients, and unsaturated fats. The endosperm provides the germ’s food supply and includes proteins, B vitamins, and most of the grain’s calories, in the form of starch. The slow-to-digest carbohydrates of whole grains help to control blood sugar. But the starch in refined flours is pulverized, stripping it of its fibrous bran hull and oil-rich germ to create a form that’s rapidly digested.
There’s a strong body of evidence to support the many positive health effects of fiber-rich whole grains. They’ve been shown to lower total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides and to regulate insulin, which can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating just two or three servings of whole grains a day has been linked to a 30 percent lower risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease. A diet rich in whole grains may also decrease your odds of developing type 2 diabetes.
What to Buy
Popular whole grains such as rice, oats, and wheat tend to overshadow other flavorful choices that also happen to be more nutritious. Consider less-familiar options such as farro and millet as a great way to add more grains to your diet, without sacrificing taste or variety. Whenever possible, buy whole grains in bulk from a natural food market or health food store, and make sure the store has a high turnover so its supply is frequently replenished. You can also purchase whole grains in bulk online.
Types of Whole Grains
Amaranth Once held sacred by the Aztecs, amaranth is actually a small herb seed, not a cereal grain. It is gluten-free and rich in protein and fiber, and has a slightly peppery taste. Cook 1 cup with 2 cups of water for 20 minutes. Cook 1 cup with 2 cups water for 20 minutes.
Barley Known for its chewiness and mild sweetness, barley contains the highest source of beta-glucans, which help to lower cholesterol. Whole, hulled barley is called Scotch or pot barley; this can be soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time. Pearl barley, which is more widely available, has had the bran layer (and some nutrients) removed. Enjoy barley as a warm breakfast cereal, or use it to bulk up soups and stews. Cook 1 cup of hulled barley with 3 cups of water for 35-40 minutes.
Brown Rice Unlike white rice, brown rice has its bran and germ intact, so it has more vitamins and fiber, as well as a stronger flavor and chewier texture. The shorter the grain, the more starchy it will be; the size has no affect on nutritional quality. Short-grain brown rice works well in Asian-style dishes, while long-grain brown rice is a good all-purpose option in side dishes and soups. Cook 1 cup with 3 cups water for 35-50 minutes.
Buckwheat Most buckwheat is used to feed animals and improve crop soil. The rest is usually made into flour. It is popular in Eastern European cooking. In Japan and Korea, buckwheat noodles, or soba, are a staple. Soba is sometimes made with a combination of wheat and buckwheat; read the label if you are avoiding or limiting your gluten intake. Cook 1 cup with 2 cups for 15 minutes.
Bulgur Sometimes referred to as cracker wheat, bulgur is ground after it’s been boiled, but it is still considered a whole grain. During the boiling process, the endosperm absorbs the nutrients from the bran layers – keeping the grain relatively intact. Use bulgur in salads such as tabbouleh. Cook 1 cup with 2 cups water for 20 minutes.
Farro Italian for emmer wheat, farro is intensely flavorful and has a high concentration of B vitamins. Farro is only considered a whole grain when the bran is still partially intact (labeled “semi-perlato”); it’s not a whole grain when the bran is removed (labeled “pearl” or “perlato”). Farro can be used in place of pasta in salads, or it can be prepared risotto-style. Cook 1 cup with 3 cups water for 30-35 minutes.
Kamut Although kamut (kah-MOOT) is related to durum wheat, many people who are gluten intolerant can eat it. This ancient grain, otherwise known as khorasan, is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals; it has a rich, buttery flavor and pleasant, chewy texture. Kamut is good in pilafs and grain salads. Cook 1 cup with 3 cups of water for 45-60 minutes.
Millet The benefits of millet’s superior protein once made it a staple in Africa, China, and India, before rice became the principal grain. Millet is loaded with B vitamins and is gluten-free. Use it in granola, meusli, hot cereals, vegetable burgers, and pilafs. Cook 1 cup with 2 cups water for 30-35 minutes.
Oats Hulled whole oats (called groats) are the most basic form of oats, and they can be cooked like other grains to make hearty breakfast cereals or savory dishes. Rolled (“old-fashioned”) oats are groats that have been flattened for faster cooking; steel-cut oats are groats that have been cut with steel blades instead of rolled. Oats in nearly all their forms (except instant or quick-cooking) have comparable nutritional profiles. Cook 1 cup with 1 cup of water for 60 minutes.
Quinoa Technically a grain-like seed, quinoa (KEEN-wah) is gluten-free and high in fiber, and it has all nine essential amino acids that make a complete protein. It has a subtle, sweet, nutty taste and can be cooked into pilafs, grain salads, and vegetable burgers. Cook 1 cup with 2 cups of water for 15 minutes.
Spelt This sweet, full-flavored heirloom variety of wheat is higher in protein than regular wheat, and it can be tolerated by some people with gluten sensitivites. It has a similar texture to farro and can be prepared in much the same manner. Cook 1 cup with 3 cups of water for 45 minutes.
Wheat Berries These are the whole unprocessed wheat kernels, which are high in protein and fiber and a good source of other nutrients and antioxidants. Wheat berries have a nutty flavor and chewy texture that works well in polafs and salads. For plumper grains, you can soak the berries for several hours before cooking, if desired. Cook 1 cup with 1 cup of water for 30-40 minutes.
Cooking recommendations as per the Clean Slate Book.