You’ve heard the recommendation to make half your grains whole (and if you haven’t, it’s time to get out from under that rock!). But do you know why whole grains are so important and the variety available? If not, you’re in luck, because we’re sharing the benefits of whole grains and a delicious roundup of recipes made with grains you may have never even heard of!
In case you’re not familiar, whole grains contain 100 percent of the original kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. These three parts of the grain are responsible for the nutritional benefits of whole grains.
- The bran contains antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber.
- The germ contains B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
- The endosperm contains starchy carbs, proteins, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
According to the Whole Grains Council, without the bran and germ, 25% of a grain’s protein is lost along with at least 17 key nutrients. Many refined grains are enriched with those lost vitamins and minerals, but they don’t contain nearly as much fiber and protein as whole grains.
Here are some whole grains to try and recipes made with them:
Quinoa is technically a seed and is referred to as a pseudo-cereal because it is cooked and eaten like a grain and has a similar nutrient profile. Quinoa is a gluten-free ancient grain that is well known as the only plant food that is a complete protein, which means it contains all of the essential amino acids in a healthy balance. It’s also a good source of fiber and iron.
Freekeh is a grain that comes from wheat (therefore it is not gluten free). It is harvested when the wheat is green and the seeds are still soft; it is then roasted and rubbed, which provides the grain with a smoky, nutty flavor. Freekeh is often sold cracked, like bulgur. Because it is picked when it is young, it retains a high level of fiber and iron, and it’s a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, and magnesium.
Bulgur is another grain that comes from wheat, but it is boiled, dried, and cracked, before being packaged. Because it has been precooked and dried, it requires a much shorter cook time than most whole grains. Bulgur stands out for its fiber content, with more than 8 grams in 1 cup cooked. Most well known for its role in tabbouleh, bulgur can be used in a variety of other dishes.
Farro, sometimes referred to as “the mother of all wheat,” is common in the Italian diet. It is high in fiber and a good source of protein and iron. Semipearled farro is the most commonly found in recipes because it reduces cooking time from whole farro, which requires soaking. Farro can be used in stews, salads, or to make farrotto, an alternative to traditional risotto.
Buckwheat, despite its name, is not wheat at all. Like quinoa, it is a gluten-free pseudo-cereal, which you may know as kasha (commonly used in kasha varnishkes) Nutritionally, buckwheat contains high levels of zinc, copper, manganese, and potassium. It’s also high in soluble fiber, which helps slow the rise in blood sugar making it especially suitable for diabetics.
What is your favorite whole grain? Let us know in the comments below.