Including plenty of whole grains in your diet puts you at lower risk for diabetes, heart disease and certain kinds of cancer. Studies show it also can help trim belly fat and make statin drugs (that lower cholesterol) more effective.
Yet, most Americans are lucky if they eat one whole grain serving a day. And that’s too bad. There’s a big wide world of healthy whole grains, each with distinct flavors and health benefits for the fiftysomething years.
We’re not talking about oatmeal, popcorn or ever-popular quinoa. Here are six lesser-known whole grains showing up on restaurant menus and in most large supermarkets, with tips on easy ways to add them to your menu:
Farro (a/k/a emmer)
Used in parts of Italy to make special soups and pastas, this ancient variety of wheat has recently hit U.S. supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. Its nutty flavor and chewy texture (farro looks like other varieties of wheat berries) make it versatile for salads, soups and side dishes. For the holidays, try this healthier farro stuffing recipe from Cooking Light.
Cooking tips: Soaking the berries in water overnight cuts cooking time from 45 minutes to under 25 minutes.
Photo by Kristen Taylor
The new darling of the culinary world, freekeh is a young, green cracked wheat (think bulgur’s size and shape) that’s roasted and rubbed to build in a rich, smoky flavor. High amounts of protein and fiber make it filling food for dieters. Even better for fiftysomethings: “Freekeh is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which have been positively associated with prevention of age-related macular degeneration,” says Vandana R. Sheth, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Cooking tips: This whole grain cooks in just under 20 minutes, so make it a go-to side dish that subs for couscous or rice. Here’s a delicious New York Times recipe with chicken.
Photo by Bananenfalter
Botanically, amaranth is not really part of the cereal grain family. But this little yellow seed with a spunky peppery flavor has a nutritional profile so similar to other cereal grains that it’s often referred to as a whole grain. Cultivated by the Aztecs, amaranth beats out other whole grains in the protein department since it carries a full complement of amino acids. In nutrition parlance, it’s a “complete” protein that can stand in for meat or eggs or dairy.
Cooking tips: Pop it in a lightly oiled pan to make miniature popcorn (which is what they do in South American countries) or cook it into breakfast cereal.
Multicolored varieties (red, yellow, gray, white) of millet are a common ingredient in bags of birdseed. But this whole grain is a pantry staple in many parts of the world including India, China, Russia and South America. Its delicate flavor and versatility make it a natural for side dishes or hot cereal. Ground into flour, it’s a good addition to gluten-free baked goods.
Cooking tips: Toasting the grains in a dry skillet or oven before cooking deepens the flavor. Here’s a good veggie burger recipe using millet from Epicurious.
Sorghum (a/k/a milo)
Fed mostly to animals in this country, the rest of the world dines on sorghum in pilafs, hot cereals, soups and salads. The yellowish-brown grain has a chewy texture much like wheat berries (and farro) and packs a high-fiber punch with eight grams of fiber per one-fourth cup.
Holding with the rule that good things come in small packages, this tiny brown Ethiopian whole grain — about the size of a poppy seed — carries a huge nutritional wallop. Count on it to deliver rich amounts of protein, fiber, zinc, iron and magnesium, like other grains. For extra measure, it’s a good source of calcium and vitamin C, an unusual contribution from a whole grain.
Cooking tips: Simmer with water to make a slightly sweet (almost molasses-like flavored) hot cereal in 15 to 20 minutes. Or swap some teff flour into cookie and baked goods recipes using cookbook author Nava Atlas’ guidelines for baking with whole grain flours.