A lesser-known grain, amaranth is high in protein and a good source of calcium. Most often eaten as cooked cereal, it’s also available as flour and as an ingredient in ready-to-eat cereals. Add extra nutrition to baked goods by substituting 10 to 20 percent of the all-purpose flour in recipes with amaranth flour.
This ancient grain of the Aztecs has been rediscovered by Westerners, although you’ll probably need to visit a health-food store or check an on-line source to find it. It has a distinctive sweet but peppery taste — one that many people prefer combined with other grains, for a more mellow flavor.
Technically, it’s not a grain; it’s the fruit of a plant. And that’s the reason it contains a more complete protein, and more of it, than other traditional grains. Meeting your daily protein needs with complex carbohydrates, rather than animal protein, is both healthier for you and a boon to your weight-loss efforts. That’s because animal protein often comes packaged with fat and cholesterol — two dietary components that you want to consume less. Protein foods also help to slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. This in turn reduces hunger by reducing insulin levels and making it easier for the body to burn fat.
Health Benefits: Even when just a little is included in a recipe, the benefit is worth it. For anyone cutting down on meat, amaranth offers a bonanza of near-complete protein. It’s not as low in the amino acid lysine, as many other grains are. It is also much richer in iron, magnesium, and calcium than most grains, so it can help keep anemia and osteoporosis at bay. It excels as a source of fiber, mostly insoluble, which is of help in reducing the risk of a variety of diseases, including heart disease, certain cancers and digestive-tract conditions.
Selection and Storage: Amaranth is a tiny, yellow grain. It can be bought as a whole grain (“pearled” amaranth), as a flour, or as rolled flakes. It’s also found as an ingredient in cereals and crackers. Expect to pay more for it; amaranth is not widely grown and is difficult to harvest, so it is more expensive than other grains. But, remember, you get a lot of nutritional bang for your buck. Keep amaranth in a tightly closed container to prevent insect infestation. And store in a cool, dry location to prevent healthy fats in it from turning rancid.
Preparation and Serving Tips: This versatile grain can be cooked in liquids and eaten as a porridge or pilaf. It can even be popped like corn. But because of its strong flavor, you may like it best combined with other grains. For baking, amaranth flour must be combined with another flour, such as wheat, because it contains no gluten by itself. Cook one cup of grains in three cups of water (yield: three cups). Bring to a boil, then simmer for 25 minutes. The final consistency will be thick, like porridge. If you want to cook it with another grain, such as oatmeal or rice, just substitute amaranth for about a quarter of the other grain, then cook as you would for that grain. To pop, stir a tablespoon at a time over high heat, in an ungreased covered skillet, until the grain pops, like corn. This can be used as a breading for fish or chicken or to top salads and soups.
When barley is baked in casseroles, stuffed into vegetables, or served in place of rice, this flavorful, fiber-packed, Middle Eastern grain curbs your appetite for higher-calorie fare — the bulking ability of fiber fills you up and reduces the likelihood that you’ll overindulge at the table.
Health Benefits: Research suggests that barley may have a lowering effect on cholesterol. Barley contains the same cholesterol-fighting soluble fiber, beta-glucan, found in oat bran and dry beans. Farmers are jumping on the bandwagon and are growing varieties — such as hulless and waxy barley — that are super-high in beta-glucan. The soluble fiber pectin fights cholesterol, too. Barley is rich in insoluble fiber as well. The whole, hulled form contains more of it than whole wheat. As insoluble fiber absorbs water, it adds bulk and speeds intestinal contents through your body, which may reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancers since contact between harmful substances and your intestinal wall is limited. And there’s another bonus — insoluble fiber may help keep digestive disorders, like constipation and hemorrhoid flare-ups, at bay.
Selection and Storage: Whole, hulled barley — brown, unpearled — is the most nutritious. It has twice the fiber and more than twice the vitamins and minerals of pearled. It’s available in health-food stores.Scotch barley, or pot barley, is refined less than the pearled type, so more of the bran’s goodness remains. Pearled barley is the easiest variety to find. While nutritionally inferior to the other two types, it boasts decent fiber and iron, and it is certainly not devoid of nutrients. Store pearled and Scotch barley in airtight containers in a cool, dark location for up to one year; nine months for all other varieties.
Preparation and Serving Tips: Add one cup of pearled barley to three cups of boiling water (or one cup of whole barley to four cups of boiling water). Simmer, covered, for 45 to 55 minutes (1 hour to 1 hour 40 minutes for whole barley). As barley cooks, the starch in it swells and absorbs water, making it soft and bulky. This makes it the perfect thickener for soups, stews, and traditional Scotch broth soup. Barley can be successfully substituted for rice in almost any recipe. It has more flavor than white rice though it isn’t as strong as brown rice — the perfect compromise.
Brown Rice (gf)
The unmistakable brown color, distinct nutty flavor, and chewy texture of brown rice are the result of removing only the inedible outer husk. Brown rice takes a bit longer to cook than white, so cook up extra, and store it in the freezer. As a quick, convenient alternative, buy instant brown rice; it cooks up in only 10 minutes. It’s just as nutritious as long-cooking brown rice; it’s just precooked to decrease cooking time. A good source of fiber and vitamin E, brown rice can be substituted anywhere you would use white rice.
Health Benefits: Brown rice, a whole grain, provides three times the fiber of white rice and is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of selenium, magnesium, many B vitamins, and fiber. The fiber and selenium in brown rice may work together to reduce colon cancer risk. Research reported in 2005 showed that rice bran oil (rather than fiber) reduced blood cholesterol levels. Whole grains eaten daily helped postmenopausal women slow the progression of heart disease. One reason may be linked to the lignans found in whole grains, which have been shown to help reduce heart disease, as well as prevent hormone-dependent cancers such as breast cancer.
Long-grain rice is the most popular variety in the United States. Cooked, the grains are fluffy and dry and separate easily. Medium-grain is popular in Latin-American cultures. Expensive wild rice is not rice at all but a member of the grass family. It has a rich flavor and is higher in protein than other types of rice.
Selection and Storage: Though fairly fluffy right after cooking, riceclumps together once it cools. Short-grain, or glutinous rice, has nearly round grains with a high starch content. When cooked, it becomes moist and sticky so the grains clump together, which is perfect for eating with the chopsticks of Asian cultures. Brown rice is more perishable than white rice but keeps about six months, and longer if refrigerated.
Preparation and Serving Tips: If rice is bought from bulk bins, it must be washed to remove dust and dirt. Packaged rice bought in the United States doesn’t need to be washed. If it’s fortified, rinsing washes away some of the B vitamins. However, it is a good idea to rinse imported rices. They may be dirty and are not enriched, so nutrients won’t be washed away. Cooking times for rice vary by variety and size of grain. Long-grain white rice takes about 20 minutes to cook. Long-grain brown rice takes longer, about 30 minutes. Short-grain brown rice takes about 40 minutes. Wild rice takes the longest, up to 50 minutes. Water isn’t the only cooking medium you can use to prepare rice. Try seasoned broth, fruit juice, or tomato juice for a change of pace. Dilute it to half strength with water. Be aware that when you add acid to the cooking water, as with juices, the rice takes longer to cook.
There’s more to buckwheat than flapjacks. Eastern Europeans know roasted buckwheat groats as kasha and eat it like porridge. Despite its name, buckwheat is not a type of wheat — nor is it related to wheat. Buckwheat isn’t even a grain; it’s the fruit of a plant that’s related to rhubarb. Buckwheat is a fruit any dieter should become familiar with. Diets that contain buckwheat have been linked to lowered risk of developing high blood pressure. Buckwheat’s beneficial effects are due in part to its rich supply of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals protect against disease by acting as antioxidants. Eating foods high in fiber, such as buckwheat, can also fill you up faster and suppress your appetite, a great tool for weight loss.
Health Benefits: Buckwheat contains more protein than grains and is not deficient in the amino acid lysine as most grains are, so the protein is more nutritionally complete. That makes it a particularly good choice for vegetarians. It’s an excellent source of magnesium, a boon to your blood pressure. A phytochemical in buckwheat may be beneficial in the management of diabetes; studies show it may have the ability to lower blood glucose levels. It’s also a good source of fiber.
Selection and Storage: You can find buckwheat in the natural foods section of supermarkets. It’s more expensive than other grains because its triangular shape requires special milling equipment. Buckwheat is sold as groats, grits, or flour. Groats are pale kernels without the hard, inedible outer shell. You can buy them whole or cracked into coarse, medium, or fine grinds. Roasted groats — kasha — are dark kernels. Very finely cracked unroasted groats are buckwheat grits. They can be found as a hot cereal — sometimes labeled “cream of buckwheat.” Buckwheat flour is also available, in light and dark versions. The darker type contains more of the hull, therefore more fiber and nutrients, and imparts a stronger flavor. Keep buckwheat in a well-sealed container in a cool, dark location. At room temperature, it is more susceptible to turning rancid than are true grains, especially in warm climates. Keep it in the refrigerator or freezer.
Preparation and Serving Tips: Take advantage of buckwheat’s intense, nutty flavor. If you don’t care for kasha plain, mix it in with pasta, grains, potatoes, or vegetables — especially winter vegetables. It makes a hearty, flavorful meal. For pilafs, stuffing, and soups, use whole kasha. Save the medium and fine grinds for cereals. To cook, Rinse 1/2 cup whole groats thoroughly, then combine with a cup of water and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. It will triple in volume. Or combine 1/2 cup of cracked kasha with 21/2 cups of liquid and cook for 12 minutes, to yield 2 cups. Buckwheat flour is superb for pancakes, but don’t try making bread with it; it doesn’t work because it contains no gluten. But you can add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of buckwheat flour into a recipe for bread, as long as the primary grain is wheat or another high-gluten grain.
This Middle Eastern staple sounds more exotic than it is; bulgur is what’s left after wheat kernels have been steamed, dried, and crushed. This cereal grain has been a food staple for years because it offers an inexpensive source of low-fat protein, making it a wonderfully nutritious addition to your low-calorie meal plan.
High in fiber and protein, and low in fat and calories, bulgur is another food that offers bulk and nutrients to fill you up without adding pounds. One thing to keep in mind, a cup of bulgur has fewer calories, less fat, and more than twice the fiber of brown rice.
Health Benefits: Bulgur doesn’t lose much from its minimal processing; it remains high in protein and minerals. That means it’s an ideal foundation for meals, allowing you to skip higher-fat protein sources, like most meats. Bulgur is also a standout in terms of its fiber content, just like whole wheat, and can help keep your digestive tract healthy as a result. The insoluble fiber it contains absorbs water, promoting faster elimination of waste, which prevents the formation of an environment that promotes the development of carcinogens.
Selection and Storage: You may need to visit a health-food store to find bulgur. It’s available in three grinds — coarse, medium, and fine. Coarse bulgur is used to make pilaf or stuffing. Medium-grind bulgur is used in cereals. The finest grind of bulgur is suited to the popular cold Middle Eastern salad called tabbouleh. Store bulgur in a screw-top glass jar in the refrigerator; it will keep for months.
Preparation and Serving Tips: Because bulgur is already partially cooked, little time is needed for preparation: Combine a half cup of bulgur with one cup of liquid and simmer for 15 minutes. Let stand for another ten minutes. Fluff with a fork. It triples in volume. For cold salads, soak bulgur before using: Pour boiling water over bulgur, in a three-to-one ratio. Soak for 30 to 40 minutes. Drain away excess water. If you like your bulgur chewier, let it sit longer to absorb more water. Bulgur is used like rice in Mediterranean countries. In fact, you can use bulgur in place of rice in most recipes. Bulgur lends its nutty flavor to whatever it is combined with, allowing you to use it as a main ingredient, thus cutting back on higher-calorie foods.
Not technically a whole grain, couscous is a type of pasta made from semolina (coarsely ground durum wheat). However, couscous is available in a whole-wheat version that provides protein, fiber, and small amounts of iron. Due to its exceptionally quick cooking time (5 minutes!) it’s a wonderful way to add a good source of healthy carbohydrates to the diet. Use as a base for salads and casseroles or cook in vegetable or chicken broth and serve as a speedy, flavorful side dish. Whole wheat couscous retains the chewy bran layer of the semolina, which adds a nutty flavor and makes it slightly more nutritious. Delicious tossed with basil, garlic and Parmesan.
Couscous pearls, also known as Israeli Couscous, are small balls of toasted semolina flour. In Israel they are called Ptitim. During 1949–1959, Israel went through an austerity period during which food and other resources were rationed. Rice, a dietary staple, was scarce, and there was a need to come up with an alternative food source. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, asked the founders of a local food company to create a wheat-based substitute for rice. The result was tiny, toasted pasta made from hard wheat flour. It was an instant success with the people, and they gave it the nickname “Ben-Gurion’s Rice.” Today, Israeli couscous remains a staple food in Jerusalem and is enjoyed by people in many places around the world.
Millet is one of those foods vegetarians love, because it is rich both in fiber, which makes your stomach feel full longer, and in protein, which helps you meet your daily protein needs from a complex carbohydrate rather than animal sources. And studies have shown a direct link between cutting back on meat and natural weight loss. In the United States, millet is used mainly for fodder and birdseed, but this nutritious grain is a staple in the diets of a large portion of the world’s population, including Africa and Asia. It has been cultivated for about 6,000 years. There are several varieties of millet available throughout the world. In Ethiopia, it is used to make porridge; in India, to make roti (a traditional bread); and in the Caribbean, it is cooked with peas and beans.
Health Benefits: Millet is a remarkable source of protein, making it perfect for vegetarian diets. It’s also a good source of niacin, copper, and manganese. You may want to give millet a try if you are allergic to wheat. Millet is considered a whole grain and as such is rich in fiber and phytonutrients. Some researchers believe that it’s the combination of phytonutrients and fiber that’s responsible for the lower rate of colon cancer, rather than fiber alone, which doesn’t appear to decrease colon cancer. One of the phytonutrients abundant in millet is called lignan. This phytonutrient may help prevent hormone-related cancers such as breast cancer and also help diminish the risk of heart disease.
Eating millet is also a good way to get magnesium and the B vitamin called niacin. Magnesium helps to relax the muscles that line the inside of your arteries, so it may reduce blood pressure. Magnesium is also suspected of being helpful for asthmatics and people who suffer migraine headache. Niacin may help keep blood cholesterol levels in check.
Selection and Storage: Look for this grain in health food stores, Asian markets, and gourmet shops. Millet is a tiny, pale-yellow bead. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, and it should keep for up to a month. In the freezer it will keep up to a year. You may occasionally see cracked millet sold as couscous. But couscous is most often made from semolina.
Preparation and Serving Tips: Millet has no characteristic flavor of its own, and it tends to take on the flavor of the foods it is prepared with. To cook millet, add one cup of whole millet and a teaspoon of vegetable oil to two cups of boiling water. Simmer, covered for 25 to 30 minutes. It should double in volume, once all the water is absorbed. Keep it covered and undisturbed while it cooks, and you’ll produce a millet that is fluffy; stir it often and it will have a creamy consistency, like a cooked cereal.
Cooked millet can also be combined with cooked beans or peas to make vegetarian “burgers.” Simply combine the two (they should be moist enough to hold together), add some seasonings, and shape into patties. Bake or pan-fry. Millet also works well in soups and stews. Simply rinse the millet in a strainer or colander and add to the mix. It should take about 20 to 30 minutes for the millet to absorb the liquid and become tender.
Quinoa (prounounced keen-wa) was a staple food for the South American Indians living in the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains. It was immensely popular because it was one of few crops that could survive in such high altitudes (10,000 – 20,000 feet above sea level). It could withstand frost, intense sun and the often dry conditions that characterized the Andean climate. It was also recognized for its superior nutritional qualities. For these reasons, it was dubbed “mother of all grains” by the Incas, so much so that it came to have spiritual significance for them. Many traditions and ceremonies surrounded the cultivation, harvest and consumption of quinoa.
Quinoa is a “pseudo-grain”—actually a gluten-free seed, but used in cooking like a whole grain. This nutrient-rich grain is a wonderful source of complete protein, providing all of the essential amino acids. It is also a good source of dietary fiber. Naturally gluten free, this powerful little grain is a great addition to any diet, but is an ideal solution for those following a gluten free, vegan or vegetarian diet that are looking to increase their protein and fiber.
Teff is a tiny whole grain that has been a staple of traditional Ethiopian cooking for thousands of years. Whole Grain Teff (Tef, T’ef) an ancient East African cereal grass, is a nutritional powerhouse. It is the smallest grain in the world (about 100 grains are the size of a kernel of wheat!). The germ and bran, where the nutrients are concentrated, account for a larger volume of the seed compared to more familiar grains.
Wheat germ, a health-food basic, is the embryo of the wheat kernel. It is one portion of the wheat kernel that is removed when it is processed into refined flour. Wheat germ certainly deserves its reputation for being a powerhouse of nutrients, as its profile strikingly illustrates.
Health Benefits: Wheat Germ one of the best sources of folic acid. That’s good news, since it’s recommended that all women of childbearing age get sufficient amounts of this nutrient to prevent neural-tube birth defects. Folic acid reduces a compound in your body called homocysteine. Lower levels of homocysteine have been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis bone fractures, and dementia. Wheat germ also contains a phytonutrient called L-ergothioneine, which is a powerful antioxidant that is not destroyed by cooking. The fiber boost you get from wheat germ is phenomenal.
Selection and Storage: Because of its unsaturated fat content, wheat germ goes rancid easily, especially if it’s raw. Fresh wheat germ should smell something like toasted nuts, not musty. Unopened, a sealed jar of wheat germ will keep about one year on the shelf. Always store opened wheat germ in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container, where it’ll keep up to nine months.
Preparation and Serving Tips: Wheat germ makes a nutritious and often undetectable addition to a myriad of dishes, including breads, pancakes, waffles, cookies, cereals, and milk shakes. It’s a lower-fat alternative to granola that can be added to yogurt and cereals. When adding wheat germ to baked goods or quick breads, you can replace one half to one cup of the flour with it. Because wheat germ tends to absorb moisture, you may want to add one to two tablespoons of water for every one-quarter cup of wheat germ you add to a recipe.