Grains are an important part of any diet. In particular, health experts and nutritionists recommend whole grains–grains that have not been processed to remove much of the fiber and nutrition–rather than refined grains such as white flour, white rice or many packaged crackers, muffins and breads. While refined grains raise your insulin level without giving a lasting feeling of fullness, whole grains keep you full, help maintain steady blood sugar levels and contribute to clear arteries and a healthy heart.
There are so many grains out there to choose from; it can be overwhelming to pick which ones to buy and incorporate into your diet. So what are the best grains to eat?
This nutritious grain seems to be the new darling of the nutrition world; everywhere you look, health experts are recommending we all eat quinoa. Why? Well, quinoa is the rare grain that is very high in complete protein in addition to its fibrous carbohydrate nutrition. That allows you to eat meatless meals–which are typically lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than meat-based meals–and still get plenty of protein. Quinoa is a small grain that is cooked similarly to bulgur or rice. Simply add quinoa to boiling water–at a 2:1 ratio of water to grain–and simmer in a covered pot until water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Then enjoy as a base for grain, bean and vegetable casseroles, as part of a vegetarian burritos filling, or as a simple side next to chicken, fish, tofu, a bean or lentil dish, Quiche or frittata.
A pantry staple, whole wheat is commonly found in healthy breads, cereals and “brown” pastas and tortillas. Whole wheat flour is often used in baking; you can easily substitute half of the white flour in most cookie and muffin recipes with whole wheat flour to increase the nutrition of your baked goods.
Another easy grain to prepare and enjoy, brown rice is a far healthier alternative to white rice. Brown rice is cooked just like quinoa, above. The cooking time varies depending on whether you’re simmering regular brown rice, which takes about 45-55 minutes to cook, or instant brown rice, which comes in a box at the supermarket and takes 10 minutes or less.
You probably already have oatmeal in your pantry. That’s a good thing, especially if it’s the whole, old-fashioned kind rather than instant flavored varieties full of sugar. Whole oats are extremely nutritious, providing tons of fiber which helps lower cholesterol and keeps you full for a long time. You can enjoy them as oatmeal, put them in cookies and muffins, even use them in place of bread crumbs to bind together a meatloaf. Whole oats are even delicious blended into a fruit smoothie or sprinkled dry onto and mixed into yogurt–really! Try it and see.
Pasta is a common food in many people’s diets. But most people choose the regular, white pasta they grew up on. However, you can do much better than that, nutritionally speaking. Whole-grain pasta is easily available in supermarkets, and is prepared just like white pasta, only taking a bit longer to cook. Whole-grain pasta has a chewier texture and a slightly nutty, hearty taste which many people really enjoy. Best of all, it’s just as adaptable as regular pasta and can be used in all your usual pasta dishes.