Healthy Grains

Grain1Eating grains, especially whole grains, provides health benefits. People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases, such as heart disease. Consuming foods containing fiber, such as whole grains, as part of a healthy diet, may reduce constipation and diverticulosis and can help with weight management. Eating grain products fortified with folate before and during pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects during fetal development.  Grains provide many nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium). Whole grains are sources of magnesium and selenium. Magnesium is a mineral used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles and Selenium protects cells from oxidation and is important for a healthy immune system. Grains and whole grains come in many shapes and sizes, from large kernels of popcorn to small quinoa seeds. Whole grains are unrefined grains that haven’t had their bran and germ removed by milling.

Whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. Whole grains are either single foods, such as brown rice and popcorn, or ingredients in products, such as buckwheat in pancakes or whole wheat in bread.

Refined grains are milled, a process that strips out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life. The refining process also removes many nutrients, including fiber. include white flour, white rice, white bread and degermed cornflower. Many breads, cereals, crackers, desserts and pastries are made with refined grains, too.

Enriched grains means that some of the nutrients lost during processing are added back in. Some enriched grains are grains that have lost B vitamins added back in but not the lost fiber. When a grain is fortified it means adding in nutrients that don’t occur naturally in the food. Most refined grains are enriched, and many enriched grains also are fortified with other vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and iron. Some countries require certain refined grains to be enriched. Whole grains may or may not be fortified. 


Types of grains:

Whole Wheat:

This one is one of the most common grains and can be readily found in bread and pasta products but make sure the label says “100% whole wheat.” Terms like “multigrain” and “wheat” can be deceiving. As when you’re shopping for any whole-grain product, look at the ingredients and make sure the whole grain is at or near the top of the list. Each serving should contain at least 2 or 3 grams of fiber.

Brown Rice:

When you choose white rice over brown, around 75% of rice’s nutrients, including nearly all the antioxidants, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins contained in the healthy bran and germ are left on the milling-room floor. Opt for brown rice, and that includes brown aromatic varieties like basmati and jasmine or more exotic versions such as red and black rice, both of which are considered whole grains and are high in antioxidants. Though technically a grass, wild rice is also considered a whole grain and is rich in B vitamins, such as niacin and folate.

Whole Oats/Oatmeal:

Oats are particularly rich in avenanthramide, an antioxidant that protects the heart. When you’re shopping for this whole grain, whether you see the word “whole” or not doesn’t matter the way it does with wheat products. Oats in the ingredients list means the product is made from whole oats, however, if you are buying something like instant oatmeal, they often contain high-fructose corn syrup and the oats are broken down so your body doesn’t have to work as hard in the digestion process. By sticking to the good old-fashioned unsweetened kind and mixing in some fruit, nuts, cinnamon, or honey you can help regulate your blood sugar and the fiber will make you feel fuller much longer.


Barley has a springy, pasta-like texture, a mild flavor, and a creamy flavor and can be ground into flour or meal for baked goods, added to soups and stews in its pearled form, and (of course) malted to make beer or whiskey. It is sold as a whole grain (hulled) or pearl barley (bran removed, then steamed and polished), which cooks faster. It is a high-fiber food and can help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, and aid regularity. In a soup, or as a side dish or a salad, the grain pairs nicely with roasted meats, fruit, and earthy vegetables, like mushrooms. Choose the whole-grain barley, not “pearled,” which means the bran and germ has been removed for the best health benefits.


Made from steamed, dried, and cracked wheat, bulgur has a nutty flavor and a granular texture. It is another derivative of wheat; it’s the result of boiling, drying, and cracking wheat kernels and is incredibly versatile in dishes and cooks in about the same amount of time as pasta. With 8 grams of fiber per cup, or 33 percent of the daily recommended value, bulgur beats out quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat, and corn in that category. 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. It is also a good source of potassium, B vitamins, iron, and calcium and has the same amount of protein as brown rice but less fat and more fiber. Bulgur is considered a whole grain, even though up to 5 percent of its bran may be removed during processing & is a great source of iron and magnesium.


Formerly used primarily as bird feed in the U.S., millet is increasing in popularity among humans, whether it’s prepared like rice or made into flour and used in baked goods. It’s a good source of protein (6 grams per cup) and has been shown to help control glucose levels which aids in ensuring energy levels are steady.


Also known as emmer wheat, farro is most frequently imported from Italy and sold pearled (which cooks quickly) rather than hulled (whole). The cooked grain’s texture is dense and chewy, the flavor delicate and nutty. Rich in fiber, protein, and vitamins A, B, C, and E, farro is low in gluten and easily digested. It is often used in hearty Italian soups and as a substitute for Arborio rice in risotto. A half-cup of farro has more fiber and fewer calories than brown rice or quinoa, and it can be used in similar preparations to those standbys. This dense grain is minimally processed and quite chewy. A quarter cup has a hefty amount of protein, fiber and micronutrients compared to other grains.


Kasha (toasted buckwheat groats) has a distinctive slightly sweet, musky flavor. It is often classified with grains but is really a three-sided fruit seed. A protein-rich, gluten-free food, kasha is high in dietary fiber and antioxidants and helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It is a nice complement to richly flavored foods, such as caramelized onions, cured meats, nuts, and wild rice.


Although it cooks like a grain, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is an herbaceous plant. It has the texture of small, light beads and a fairly mild taste that pairs well with strong-flavored vegetables like kale, spinach, and red peppers. Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It’s also a good source of magnesium, which protects against osteoporosis.  Though it’s technically a seed and not a grain, this ancient South American power food is packed with more protein than any other grain, and each uncooked cup of the stuff (about three servings) has 522 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids.

Wheat Berries:

These minimally processed whole wheat kernels have a strong, sweet taste; a tight, oval shape; and a chewy texture. With their nutrient-rich bran and germ, they’re packed with protein, vitamin E, and iron and are especially high in fiber, so they help protect against colon cancer. Wheat berries enhance subtly flavored foods, such as chicken and shellfish and since wheat berries are quite literally whole wheat, they may be more filling than a similar amount of food made with wheat flour. Their sweetness tempers salty ingredients, like capers and bacon.


Crunchy roasted wheat kernels with a smoky flavor that originated in the Middle East and it is considered healthy because the kernels are harvested while they’re still young (when the leaves are yellow and the seeds are green and soft) and then roasted, giving it a smoky flavor. They contain more vitamins and minerals than other grains and provides up to four times the fiber content of brown rice, which is good news for the waistline: and while in the stomach, freekeh acts as a prebiotic providing sustenance for the good bacteria that aid in digestion.

Whole Rye:

According to nutritional research from the nonprofit Organic Center, rye has more nutrients per 100-calorie serving than any other whole grain. It has four times more fiber than standard whole wheat and provides you with nearly 50 percent of your daily recommended amount of iron. The problem is, most rye and pumpernickel (made primarily from rye) bread in this country is made with refined flours so look for “whole rye” topping the ingredients list to get the healthy benefits.


Native to Russia, buckwheat is actually not a type of wheat at all — it’s an herb! More closely related to rhubarb than to wheat (making it gluten-free!), its seeds are ground into flour or crushed to make groats, which are cooked like rice. Buckwheat may also help lower cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol molecules and dragging ’em out of the body on its way through the digestive system and can also be helpful in treating diabetes because it naturally contains a compound that lowers blood glucose levels. This common pancake whole grain is one of the whole grains many people living with celiac disease can tolerate (others include quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum). And it’s one of the best grain-based sources of magnesium, a wonder mineral that does everything from ease PMS symptoms to improve nerve functioning, and manganese, which boosts brain power.

This grain has typically been associated with pancake mixes, but it did you know that it also 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.

Whole-Wheat Couscous:

Most of the couscous you see is a form of pasta, usually made from refined wheat flour so to make the healthy choice look for the whole-wheat kind, often most easily found in natural-food stores vs. commercial supermarkets and by choosing the whole-grain type will gain you 5 additional grams of fiber.


Small black or white seeds that originate in Mexico that have an unassuming flavor  and are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and 1 tablespoon of seeds packs 3 grams of fiber, which is as much as many fiber supplements. The seeds absorb several times their volume in water, which promotes a feeling of fullness. In fact, a 2008 University of Toronto study found regular consumption of white chia seeds slashed hunger by up to 63 percent.


Yes, corn can be healthy for you as long as it is whole! It is a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus, whole corn is also thought to increase healthy gut flora, which can ward off diabetes, heart disease, and chronic inflammation. Yellow corn is also high in antioxidants. Even popcorn can be ok for you, just skip the microwavable kinds that use harmful chemicals in the bags’ nonstick lining and instead buy organic popcorn kernels and make microwave popcorn in an ordinary paper bag, or do it the old-fashioned way on the stovetop. Organic is important, as about 40 percent of the corn grown in the United States is genetically modified (GM) to withstand higher doses of pesticides. Some studies are starting to link GM foods to allergies and other health problems.


Once considered a weed, amaranth is now known for great nutritional value and originated in Central America. This grain is high in fiber (21 percent of the daily recommended value per cup), and it’s also a great source of the amino acid lysine and nutrients magnesium, calcium, and squalene, a compound that may help prevent cancer. One cup of cooked amaranth has nearly as much calcium as a cup of low-fat cottage cheese, an impressive 5.2 grams of fiber (many cold cereals have about 1 gram per serving), and more protein than a hard-boiled egg. Unlike most other grains, it contains lysine, an amino acid that the body needs for growth and tissue repair. Amaranth is also gluten-free and is sold as seeds, flour, and puffed cereal with a nutty, toasted flavor


These teeny tiny grains pack a sizable nutritional punch: Teff is surprisingly high in calcium (one cup contains 12 percent of the daily recommended value) and vitamin C, a nutrient not often found in grains and is gluten-free.  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. Teff’s tiny size (about the size of a poppy seed) allows it to cook quickly compared to other grains, ranging from 12 to 20 minutes depending on desired texture.


Kamut is the brand name — and most commonly used name — for the ancient khorasan strain of wheat. It’s a great source of protein, with 11 grams per cup, as well as nutrients like selenium, zinc, and magnesium. One study even showed that rats that consumed kamut had better responses to oxidative stress than those that had eaten wheat, which basically means kamut has is higher in antioxidants than regular wheat.


Fonio might be a tiny type of millet, but there’s a ton of nutritional value in this grain. It’s rich in amino acids, specifically methionine, which helps the liver process fat, and cystine, which is part of the proteins that make up our hair, nails, and skin, and also helps remove toxins from the liver and brain. Fonio is also one of the grains highest in magnesium, zinc, and manganese.

Sorghum (aka Milo):

Sorghum is a gluten-free grain that can be a great option for those with celiac disease and is super versatile since it can be used as flour in baked goods, cooked into porridge, popped like popcorn, or used to make beer!


Spelt is a type of wheat that is higher in protein than other types, and in flour form can easily be used as a substitute for wheat flour in recipes. There is some evidence that those with sensitivity to wheat can tolerate spelt, but other research suggests those with gluten intolerance might still want to be cautious.

Rye berries:

Everyone knows about rye bread, but the grain can also be eaten in its berry form. Rye berries can be cooked like rice or barley in pilafs or soups, though cooking can take up to an hour. Rye berries do not taste like rye bread as that distinct flavor comes from caraway seeds added to the bread, not the rye itself, so dishes made with rye berries won’t have the same taste. Rye contains a peptide called lunasin, which could play a role in cancer prevention and studies show that rye fiber appears to be more effective than the wheat fiber in improving bowel health.


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