Your Guide to Healthy Grains

by Samantha Suarez 

“Is butter a carb?” asked Regina George in the movie Mean Girls, where main character Cady Heron responds with a slightly condescending, “Yes.” For many of us, that is extent of our understanding of carbs: things that aren’t exactly great for you, such as cookies, pasta and white bread.

Why are there so many misconceptions about carbs?

The fad of fearing carbs likely occurred because many of us only think of the unhealthy varieties mentioned above. The truth is, there are good carbs and bad carbs, just like there is a difference between eating fresh strawberries and strawberry-flavored Skittles. Good carbs can be found in fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, and yep, you guessed it: whole grains.

Whole Gains? More Like, Holy Grains!

Eating refined grains and bad carbs don’t just affect your weight; they can also raise your risk of heart disease, strokes and other health issues. On the flip-side, working healthy whole grains into your diet can help prevent these problems. Additionally, these grains are rich in nutrients, such as iron, potassium, magnesium, fiber and protein. Studies also show that people who consume more whole grains tend to be thinner and at a lower risk for diabetes and dementia.

The subject of grains can be confusing and intimidating. What counts as a grain? What’s the difference between a whole grain and a refined grain? How can you prepare them in a way that won’t feel like a grain of terror in the kitchen, but more like singing in the grain?

We’ve got you covered. Here are all the basics and more.

Grain’s Anatomy: Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

Healthy whole grains are exactly what they sound like: They contain the entire grain from the bran to the germ to the endosperm. Refined grains—such as white flour and white rice—only have the endosperm. This distinction is vital, because while refining grains prolongs their shelf life, it strips away all the good stuff, including the antioxidants and B vitamins.

Consider this your hall pass to eat carbs—the healthy way!

Whole Grains 101

It’s easy to envy people who enjoy whole grains and other healthy foods raw or plain. Sure, maybe they add a little bit of seasoning to give it some flavor, but most of us agree that those nutritious options aren’t exactly craving-worthy.

Fortunately, making substitutions like white bread to whole wheat, flour tortillas to corn tortillas, regular bagels to whole grain and white rice to brown rice makes a huge difference. What’s more, when whole grains are used creatively in dishes, they can be highly versatile and incredibly good for you.

11 Whole Grains For Your Grocery List

1. Brown Rice

There many types of brown rice to experiment with: basmati, jasmine, long grain, short grain and colors such as red, black and purple. While it does take longer to cook than white rice, all the extra nutrients are worth the wait.

2. Barley

Barley contains eight different amino acids, which help maintain regular blood sugar. If you think that’s all it does, we’ve “barley” gotten started! It also contains the most fiber out of all the whole grains and is known to reduce cholesterol and boost immunity. Barley is popular enough that you’ll find it in most supermarkets as well as dishes such as salads, stews, breads and of course, beer and whiskey. If possible, purchase whole-grain barley instead of pearled, which means the bran and germ have been removed.

3. Quinoa

Technically a seed and not a grain, this South American superfood is popular among foodies for its fast cooking time and generous supply of protein. Enjoy its light, nutty flavor in a power bowl dish like a cold salad, or use it as a fantastic alternative to rice. Another added benefit is that quinoa keeps well so you can easily pack it for lunch at the office.

4. Oats

This old-school favorite is probably already sitting in your pantry. Oats contain beta-glucan, which has been found to reduce cholesterol; they also carry an abundance of fiber and antioxidants. The less processed the better, so shop for the steel cut or traditional type instead of the quick-cooking oats. It’s also recommended to make large batches of crunchy granola with it to amp your breakfast game from good to “oat of control!”

5. Buckwheat

Naturally gluten-free, buckwheat is grainy in texture, earthy in flavor and has one of the highest protein contents among whole grains. Try making buckwheat pancakes topped with jam or syrup, or swap your spaghetti for soba noodles tossed in sesame sauce.

6. Millet 

This tiny grain is often found in bird seed. Gluten-free and rich in magnesium, antioxidants and fiber, millet is great for digestion. So, eat like a bird and try some millet when you’re baking bread or cookies, or have it with your breakfast cereal.

7. Rye 

Rye is great source of insoluble fiber and contains 50 percent of your daily recommended iron. It prevents constipation, manages cholesterol and is great for losing weight or managing diabetes. Do as the Scandinavians and have rye bread served with smoked salmon and fresh dill.

8. Teff 

Rye is great source of insoluble fiber and contains 50 percent of your daily recommended iron. It prevents constipation, manages cholesterol and is great for losing weight or managing diabetes. Do as the Scandinavians and have rye bread served with smoked salmon and fresh dill.

9. Whole Wheat 

You probably already know about whole wheat bread and pasta, but did you know you could find whole wheat couscous and bulgur, too? Make sure the labels read, “100 percent whole wheat,” especially for bread and pasta. Terms like “multigrain” and “wheat” won’t cut it.

10. Farro

Chewy and nutty in flavor, Farro resembles brown rice in both taste and composition. It cooks slowly and needs to be soaked overnight. Rich in B vitamins, magnesium and potassium, this ancient Italian grain frequently appears in soups, risottos and salads.

11. Corn

How don’t we eat corn? We eat it off the cob, process it into cornmeal for bread and snack on it in bags at movie theaters. Whole corn is extremely healthy and serves as a great source of B vitamins, magnesium, antioxidants and phosphorus. The easiest way to eat it that’s still healthy? Popcorn! Skip the microwavable options, which use harmful chemicals in the bag lining, and opt for organic popcorn kernels.


Samantha Suarez

Sam was born in Chicago, grew up in the Philippines, attended college in Australia and is now living in Grand Rapids. She loves cheese, video games and music, and will quote a movie or TV show every chance she gets.


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