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Against the Grain


Experiment with some of the more nutritious, healthful grains available on store shelves

There are so many different grains available at supermarkets, specialty stores and farmers’ markets. While some are quite popular, others are not as widely used. Discover and experiment with some of these healthful grains, which are loaded with nutrients.

Many whole grains are a great source of fiber. Fiber is important for lowering blood cholesterol levels, stabilizing blood sugar and maintaining energy, and its essential for digestive health. Fiber can also decrease the risk of colorectal cancer and diverticular disease. Whole grains are very low in saturated fat, can be a good source of protein and are rich in vitamins and minerals. Whole grains combined with a balanced diet provide the proper nutrition the body needs.

Types of Grains

  • Amaranth is a bushy plant that produces seeds as the grain. These grains are very high in protein and iron content. In addition, they are a good source of calcium, zinc and lysine (an amino acid). The fiber content is three times that of wheat. Amaranth can be added to flour mixtures for baked goods to increase fiber and nutritional value. Its high-protein content makes this grain an excellent choice for vegetarians, as well as those following a gluten-free diet.
  • Barley is a grain that is the highest in soluble fiber, which is most effective for lowering bad cholesterol. It’s also very high in selenium. Barley is a cereal grain that has a texture similar to rice, with a tasty nutlike flavor. It’s very versatile and great to add to dishes such as soups, casseroles and stews.
  • Bulgar is similar to cracked wheat but cooks quicker. It’s higher in fiber than buckwheat and oats. It’s particularly high in insoluble fiber, which aids in moving particles through the digestive tract. Bulgar can be used as a substitution for rice in many recipes. It’s sometimes used in meatless burgers to enhance nutritional value.
  • Buckwheat is actually not related to wheat at all and makes a great substitution for wheat for gluten-free diets. It is an herb plant that bears seeds that are the grain. It’s high in protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, B vitamins and iron. Enjoy buckwheat in pancakes and waffles.
  • Flaxseed is a great source of fiber and ALA omega-3 fatty acid. In order for the omega-3 to be released, the flax must be ground. Sprinkle on hot or cold cereals, or add to smoothies.
  • Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is one of the most nutritious grains there is. It has a high biological value protein content, which means its protein is well-absorbed by the body, better than other grains. It’s also high in lysine and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free, making it an excellent protein-rich grain for gluten-sensitive individuals. An added benefit is that it’s tasty and easy on the stomach, suitable for people who have difficulty digesting higher-fiber foods. Quinoa can be used as a side dish in place of couscous or rice.

Recently there has been increased hype and advertisements touting “gluten-free” products, which leave many consumers wondering what gluten is. Many conclude that gluten must be bad for you since there are so many of these products flooding the market. Gluten is a protein byproduct of wheat, rye and barley. It is not harmful to health unless you are sensitive to gluten. People who suffer from celiac disease must avoid all gluten because a severe digestive, allergic-type reaction occurs. Those who are only “sensitive” to gluten will have mild symptoms such as gastric discomfort as compared with those who have total gluten intolerance. The increasing number of gluten-free products on the market makes it easier for people to find suitable products.

Bottom Line: Many grains offer an array of nutrients, so experiment with some new ones. If you’re a vegetarian and looking for an adequate source of protein, try amaranth, wheat, quinoa. If you’re following a gluten-free diet, safe bets include quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth. When searching for whole-grain products, look for the first ingredient to be “whole grain” or “whole wheat” and make sure there is at least three grams of fiber per serving. Beware, many cereals and crackers are made with whole grains but are enriched with other refined flours. Read the nutrition facts and the ingredients to be sure.