Whole grains are an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and can play an important role in helping with weight reduction. The secret to whole grains’ health benefits? Fiber. Fiber has been shown to improve satiety, the feeling of being full, and to reduce the urge to snack and consume more calories later in the day. Ready to find out which grains will offer you the biggest nutritional benefits? Read on as we dive into the best whole grains, and find some tasty healthy whole grain recipes to try at home.
Not All Grains Are Equal
Whole grains, intact grains, ancient grains, unprocessed grains; whatever you call them, the healthiest grains will be as close to their natural state as possible. Grains, like quinoa or steel cut oats, still look the way they grew. It is time to diversify your shopping list to include rye berries, wheat berries, farro, spelt, steel cut oats, quinoa, whole wheat flour, and amaranth.
Typically the wheat bread and boxes of breakfast cereal that claim to be full of whole grain goodness are not going to give you the same health benefits as the intact grains listed above. Why not? The FDA allows a food to be called whole grain if it contains all of the parts of a whole grain (the bran, germ, and endosperm), even if that grain has been taken apart, processed, and put back together. This process often leads to reduced fiber content, a reduction of the natural fats found in the plant, lower nutrient levels, and leads to a blood sugar surge when you eat the food. Researchers have also found that many of the processed foods marked with the “Whole Grain” stamp actually contain much more sugar and calories that foods not having the stamp. Just because a food is labeled “whole grain” then doesn’t automatically mean that it is a healthy choice.
Don’t get confused by the marketing hype. With whole grains, the best choice is the most natural choice. When you are looking for whole grains, choose grains that look “whole.”
The Healthiest Whole Grains
Quinoa has surged in popularity over the last few years because of its high protein content. Quinoa contains sufficient levels of all nine essential amino acids to be considered a “complete protein,” or a “high quality” protein. This has made quinoa a staple of many vegan and vegetarian diets, as well as for low-carb dieters and athletes with high-protein needs. Quinoa also provides much more fiber than many other grains. Folate, zinc, magnesium, and manganese are among the essential nutrients you can get from a serving of quinoa.
Try these quinoa recipes:
If your only experience with oats is a packet of instant oatmeal at breakfast time, you are missing out on one of the greatest whole grains available. Not only do whole oats, like steel cut oats, rank high on the satiety scale, they have also been shown in studies to help protect against heart disease. Oats contain a particular fiber known as beta glucan that has been shown to lower cholesterol levels and enhance the immune system’s response to bacterial infections.
Try these oat recipes:
Farro is cooked like rice, but it is really an ancient wheat that has been eaten as far back as the times of the Romans and Egyptians. Farro is high in fiber, protein, and magnesium. The high protein content makes Farro another excellent food for athletes and vegans focused on getting more protein in their diet. Farro can be used in many different cooking preparations; use it in soups and salads, cook it like rice, or substitute it into your favorite pasta recipes.
Try these Farro recipes:
Spelt is another whole grain considered an “ancient grain.” Like quinoa, spelt contains all nine essential amino acids, and thusly is a complete vegetarian protein source. Spelt contains an array of B vitamins, plus iron, copper, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Spelt is not a gluten-free food, but it is high in protein and fiber. Spelt does contain gluten, so it is not an appropriate wheat substitute if you have Celiac’s disease. Spelt is wonderful when cooked like a risotto, slowly stirring in liquid until it is absorbed and the spelt becomes fluffy.
Try this Spelt Recipe:
Barley is a whole grain with a delicious nutty flavor and chewy texture that makes it a perfect addition to soups. Like oats, barley contains beta glucan that can improve cholesterol and protect the heart. Barley’s insoluble fiber can help with digestion and prevent constipation, and acts as a food for the “friendly” bacteria that populate your gut and support your immune health. Barley is an excellent source of nutrients like manganese, molybdenum, selenium, copper, and B vitamins.
Try these Barley recipes: