Whole grains took center stage a few years ago when the government recommended that Americans fill half of their plates with whole grain sources. It was an exciting win for dietitians who are constantly trying to dispel the fear that all carbohydrates are bad.
Many consumers, however, were left packing their plates with brown rice and whole grain bread. While those options are great ones, many people don’t know what other grains to turn to. Let’s start first with the “why” behind the benefits of consuming whole grains—in other words, grains that have kept all of their pieces and parts.
Whole grain kernels consist of three parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Each part offers a wide variety of health benefits along with nutrients. The bran is the outermost layer that contains fiber, antioxidants, B vitamins and phytochemicals. Next comes the endosperm, which is the middle layer that contains mostly carbohydrates, some protein and small amounts of B vitamins and minerals. Finally, the innermost layer contains the germ, which houses all the healthy fats, B vitamins, phytochemicals and antioxidants. In most refined grain options, the germ and bran (and all of their wonderful components) get stripped away, leaving behind the starch-heavy and nutrient-deficient endosperm.
To get the most out of your grains, choose ones that keep all three parts intact, including these fabulous five options:
Teff: This gluten-free grain is tiny in size, which allows it to be cooked quickly. It’s considered the leading grain in calcium content, providing 123 milligrams per cup, which is equivalent to a half cup of cooked spinach. Strangely enough, teff is also a great source of vitamin C, which is not normally found in grains. This super grain is also high in resistant starch, which makes it great for managing blood sugar levels and weight control and also aids in colon health.
Farro: This dense grain is minimally processed and quite chewy. A quater cup has a hefty amount of protein, fiber and micronutrients compared to other grains. Healthy bonus: If you’re looking for an interesting tidbit to share at your next dinner party, how about this: Since farro has a protective husk on the outside, the use of harmful pesticides is not needed to protect against pollutants and insects.
Bulgur: This nutty tasting grain has a serving size of 1 cup and is low in calories and fat while being high in fiber. Bulgur is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects due to its betaine content, and the grain may help decrease your risk of developing gallstones and cancer because of its high fiber content.
Buckwheat: This grain has typically been associated with pancake mixes, but its possibilities in the kitchen are endless. Buckwheat contains higher amounts of zinc (which boosts immune function), copper (which may reduce the risk of neurological disorders) and manganese (which protects your bones) than any other grain. What’s more, compared to other whole grains, buckwheat contains the second highest quantity of protein and soluble fiber, which slows the rate of glucose absorption.
Barley: Barley is probably one of the most familiar grains that you know of, and for good reason: It contains the highest fiber content of all whole grains. In addition, it’s loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy life. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that barley may play a role in the reduction of several diseases by lowering blood pressure and LDL (or “lousy”) cholesterol levels and by helping with insulin sensitivity.
By incorporating various forms of whole grains into your diet daily, you will experience a vast amount of health benefits that will make you feel beautiful inside and out. Try incorporating barley into your favorite cookie recipe or make teff waffles for breakfast. Not only will these foods taste great, but they will also fill you up and provide you with enough energy to make it through your day.
Julie Kane contributed to this article.