Healthy Grains


Healthy Grains

Basis of our diet

Most nutritionists would say that the western diet is a "grain-based" diet, since we rely heavily on grains and their by-products in the foods we eat. While this is true with regard to wheat, corn, and possibly oats, there are several, less common grains that can form part of a healthy diet.

Grain Sensitivity

Although grains can be an excellent source of vital nutrients, including Protein, Carbohydrates, Vitamins and Minerals, as well as a great source of fiber, there seems to be a growing number of people who are sensitive to gluten that is found in certain grains. They may have an inherited disorder called "Celiac Disease," which causes inflammation of the intestines, poor absorption and general digestive discomfort for the sufferer.

What about gluten?

The specific grains that cause the problem in Celiac Disease, contain a protein substance called "gluten," which can wreak havoc on the digestive tract of those who are sensitive to it. Since gluten is what gives most breads and many baked products their structure, it is more difficult, although not impossible, to make bread with gluten-free grains. Some recipes use arrowroot flour or tapioca flour to overcome this problem. A whole industry has arisen around the need for gluten-free products.

Interesting Fact about Healthy Grains: Although you may not know it, if you eat a lot of processed foods, corn is probably the most pervasive grain in your diet. Even if you do not consume corn on the cob, you are probably still eating a fair amount of corn by-products in the form of cornstarch and corn syrup, which are ubiquitous in processed foods and drinks.

Grains that contain glutenGluten-free grains
TriticaleRice (including Wild Rice)
Wheat (Bulgur, Couscous, Farina, Graham)Tef

Caveat for Healthy Grains: Vegetarians who are sensitive to gluten, should be aware that gluten and gluten products are commonly used in meat analogs and other meat replacement products, so read labels carefully before you purchase.

Healthy Grains

Here are some of the healthy grains that can form part of a your diet:

Amaranth – a nutritious gluten-free grain that was popular as far back as the Aztecs in Central America; good source of lysine (amino acid), which is not usually found in grains; good source of fiber, along with some minerals and vitamins; mild and easy to digest compared to wheat.

Interesting Fact about Healthy Grains: One story of why amaranth, in spite of its obvious nutritional benefits, is not more widely consumed is that the Spanish conquistadors associated it with the pagan practices of the Aztecs, and as a result, they wouldn't consider cultivating amaranth or adding it to their diet and its use did not become widespread.

Amaranth recipe ideas: 

  • Cook whole amaranth in water in a ratio of one cup grain to 2 1/2 cups water for about 20 minutes and serve as hot cereal or pilaf. 
  • Use up to 1 cup amaranth flour for every 4-5 cups gluten flour to improve protein quality in your bread.

Barley – a light-colored cereal grain that has been eaten since ancient times; high in selenium and fiber; may help to lower cholesterol; sweeter taste than wheat; may be found as “pearled barley,” barley flakes and barley flour; ingredient in beer and other alcoholic beverages.

Interesting Fact about Healthy Grains: Lemon-barley water was a popular drink in the days before juices, sodas and other drinks were readily available. It was likely a better choice than many of the beverages we drink today.

Barley recipe ideas: 

  • Add barley to stew and soup to improve flavor and nutrition. 
  • You can make a hot breakfast cereal using barley flakes. 
  • Barley flour may be used to replace part of the flour in breads. 
  • For barley pilaf, use one cup pearled barley to 3 1/2 cups boiling water. Bring to a boil once more, and then cover and simmer on low heat for about one hour.

Interesting Fact about Healthy Grains: Buckwheat is a source of “quercetin,” a substance that may help reduce the effects of seasonal allergies.

Buckwheat – a seed-grain that is easily recognizable by its triangular shape; gluten free;may protect against disease such as heart disease, diabetes, and hormone dependent cancers; significant source of manganese; plant produces dark, aromatic honey.

Buckwheat recipe ideas: 

  • Add buckwheat to stew and soup to improve flavor and nutrition. 
  • You can make a hot breakfast cereal using buckwheat. 
  • Buckwheat flour may be used to replace part of the flour in breads and to make pancakes. 
  • To cook buckwheat, use one cup buckwheat to 2 cups boiling water. Bring to a boil once more and then cover and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes.

Interesting Fact about Healthy Grains: The type of corn—that yellow variety—that most people are familiar with, actually comes from a hybrid version of the maize plant that was specifically developed to increase yield. Its yellow color is one of its distinctive and relatively new characteristics.

Corn – grain of the maize plant that comes in many varieties; good source of thiamin (Vitamin B1); grows on a cob and the kernels are eaten off the cob or removed for eating; popped to produce a popular snack; ground into cornmeal for bread or grits; can be served as a vegetable; native to Central America; popular ingredient in Mexican food; more processed foods contain corn than any other grain, probably due to the popularity of corn syrup.

Corn recipe ideas:

  • Corn can add texture to soups and chowders. 
  • Cornmeal can be used to make quick breads and as part of the flour in some yeast breads. 
  • To make corn-on-the cob, add (freshly-picked) shucked ears to boiling, salted water and cook for 10 minutes. If you choose to roast the corn in the husk, soak it in salt water for a few hours first, and then place over hot coals until kernels are tender.

Fun Fact about Healthy Grains: Popcorn is a variety of corn that comes in a variety of colors and sizes, and has an endosperm that explodes when heated, giving us those soft fluffy morsels that we love to consume at the movies.

Millet – a tiny seed that has long been a staple food in Asia and Africa; good source of healthy eating and manganese; should be avoided by those with thyroid problems due to its goitrogen content; major ingredient in many commercial bird seeds.

Millet recipe idea: 

  • Millet flour can be used for a portion of the flour in breads. 
  • Millet can also be made into a pilaf. Heat 1 cup millet in 2 1/2 cups water and simmer for about 35 minutes.

Fun Fact about Healthy Grains: Millet is one of the few grains commonly used by the Hunzas, a Himalayan people who are known for their amazingly good health and longevity. You can find many recipes for so-called “Hunza” bread on the web.

Oats – a hardy cereal grain that is most commonly used in its rolled form rather than as a kernel (groats); good source of manganese and fiber; excellent source of selenium; may reduce cholesterol and help lessen risk of heart disease; may be purchased in these forms: old-fashioned, quick-cooking, instant, flakes, groats and steel-cut.

I recommend...

My personal favorite oats are Bob's Red Mill Organic Scottish Oats. They have a different texture and flavor than rolled oats, and are great served with berries, chopped apples and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Tip: Be sure to use a whisk when adding oats to boiling water to avoid lumpy oatmeal, and follow package directions for best results.

Click on this link to purchase them online.

Bob's Red Mill Organic Scottish Oatmeal, 20-Ounce Bags (Pack of 4)

Oats recipe idea: 

  • You can also add some oat flour or oats to many baked goods. Rolled oats can also be used to replace some of the breadcrumbs in some recipes. 

Making oatmeal

For hot cereal, simmer 1 cup of rolled oats or 1/3 cup steel-cut oats in 2 cups of lightly salted water for 15 minutes for rolled and 30 minutes for steel-cut oats. Do not stir too much or you will end up with “oat paste.” If you use apple juice instead of water, your oatmeal will have added sweetness.

  • Tip: When traveling, take along some packets of plain instant oatmeal, along with fresh apples, raisins, walnuts or whatever you fancy.  Most hotel rooms have hot water available, either in the room or up front, and you can make an easy, nutritious high-fiber breakfast that will give you a good start on your day.

Caveat: Be wary of most “instant” oatmeal, which tends to be loaded with sugar and other additives. Oatmeal that you make yourself is easy and less expensive, and you can add cinnamon, chopped apple, raisins or other fruit to your taste, without all the extra sugar. Having said that, there are some healthier brands of instant oatmeal that can be a good choice; just be sure to read the label before purchasing.

Click here for more information on reading labels.

Interesting Fact about Healthy Grains: Rolled oats and steel-cut oats differ in how they are produced from the oat kernels or “groats.” While rolled oats, as the name suggests, are flattened to make them cook faster, steel-cut oats are cut-up pieces of the groats.

Some people believe that steel-cut oats are more nutritious than rolled oats, but I could find no real evidence to support this. However, you may prefer the texture of oatmeal made with steel cut oats, also called “Irish” oatmeal. Quick-cooking oats are oat groats that have been cut up into pieces and then rolled to provide more surface area for faster cooking.

Quinoa – a tiny grain that was popular in ancient times in South America; one of few plant foods and the only grain that is a complete protein; available in red and white varieties; good source of manganese, magnesium and iron; gluten free; used to make gluten-free pastas.

Quinoa recipe ideas: 

  • Use instead of bulgur in cold salads. 
  • Cook like oatmeal as a hot cereal or mix with oatmeal. Be sure to rinse the raw quinoa in cold water to remove any traces of the bitter coating on the seeds. Boil 1 cup of quinoa in 2 cups water for about 15 minutes.

Rice - the most common grain in the world, since half of the world’s population relies on rice as a staple of their daily diet; good source of manganese, selenium and magnesium; comes in long-grain, short-grain and round varieties, as well as brown and white; white rice has the bran and germ removed; basmati rice is a fragrant and flavorful white rice.

Rice recipe ideas: 

Rye is a wheat-like grain that is popular in Russia; has a stronger taste than wheat and, although it contains gluten, it does not work as a support for bread without some wheat flour or wheat gluten being added; good source of manganese, selenium and fiber.

Rye recipe ideas: 

  • You can use rye flour to replace part of the flour in breads and pancakes. 
  • Rolled rye flakes may be cooked like oatmeal and served as a hot breakfast. 
  • Rye berries can be used in the same way as wheat berries to make a pilaf.

Spelt, an ancient grain that is similar to wheat; may create less sensitivity than wheat in the diet (NOT gluten-free); used in much the same way as wheat in breads and other baked goods; good source of manganese, phosphorus, fiber and niacin (Vitamin B3).

Teff - the smallest grain in the world; used since ancient times; popular in Africa for making bread; gluten-free so can be used in place of wheat for gluten-free cooking; tan to chocolate brown in color; distinctive flavor; good source of iron, calcium, copper and thiamin (Vitamin B1); may be used as a thickener for soup and stew.

Triticale - a hybrid of wheat and rye that is much hardier than wheat; high protein content due to lower gluten content, flour cannot be used to make bread without addition of some wheat flour; grown in places with poor soil to produce a better yield than wheat.

Fun Fact about Healthy Grains: When wheat kernels are processed to make white flour, the bran and the germ are removed, leaving only the white center (endosperm). Then, since most of the vitamins (and minerals) are in the parts that were removed, the food producer will fortify or add back in, the minerals and vitamins that were taken out.

Wheat - world’s most abundant cereal grain; available in many forms, including, berries, cracked wheat, wheat flakes, bulgur, whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, wheat bran and unbleached white flour; most likely, of all the grains, to be the source of food sensitivity of all the grains.

Wheat recipe ideas: 

  • You can use whole-wheat flour to make breads and other baked goods such as pancakes and muffins. For a lighter product, or if you do not like the taste or texture of 100% whole-grain baked products, use up to half whole-wheat flour and half unbleached white flour.
  • Wheat berries can be made into a hot, chewy breakfast cereal. Rinse one cup of wheat kernels, cover with water and soak overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse the berries and then add about 3 cups of water and salt. Bring water to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about one hour until berries split. Serve plain or with a bit of honey or butter. These cooked berries can also be used as a pilaf and served with vegetables.

Caveat for Healthy Grains: Although “unbleached” white flour is probably better than white flour that has been “bleached” with chemicals, find a good brand where the flour has been aged naturally rather than using chemicals.

Wild rice – the dark-colored, rice-like seed of fresh-water grasses; grows naturally in northern lakes of North America; popular with northern Native American cultures; good source of folic acid, niacin and magnesium.

Interesting Fact about Healthy Grains: Although it is called "wild rice"; it is actually not rice at all and much of the wild rice we eat is not wild at all, but cultivated. Connoisseurs will tell you that the wild-growing, hand-harvested wild rice is far better in flavor to the cultivated and often hybridized varieties.

Click here to go from Healthy Grains page to Caffeine page.

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