Diversify your grains

Americans might fare better nutritionally with more variety in our whole grain consumption when considering that 55 to 60 percent of our total energy intake daily should come from carbohydrates.

Lately there has been a good deal of press about how to improve health by reducing or eliminating wheat from our diet. Grain, however, plays a vital role in nutritional health supplying fiber, iron, energy, vitamins and minerals with little or no fat. Maybe the bigger message should be that Americans might fare better nutritionally with more variety in our whole grain consumption. When considering that 55 to 60 percent of our total energy intake daily should come from carbohydrates, improving the quality and variety of the grain in our diet could have an impact on overall nutritional health.

Consider trying of some of the following grains or seeds:

Barley has a springy, pasta-like texture, and a mild flavor and creamy flavor. It is sold as a whole grain (hulled) or pearl barley (bran removed, then steamed and polished), which cooks faster. A high-fiber food, barley helps reduce the risk of heart disease and Type II diabetes and aids in regularity. Bake with barley, use in a soup, or as a side dish or a salad, the grain pairs nicely with roasted meats, fruit, and earthy vegetables, like mushrooms. PREPARE: Hulled Barley - add 1 cup barley to 2 cups water. Simmer 60-75 minutes.

Buckwheat is actually a healthy high-protein gluten-free seed. If you’ve ever had Japanese soba noodles, you’ve probably had buckwheat, since these noodles are usually made from buckwheat flour. Buckwheat is traditionally used in pancakes, muffins, breads and noodles. It is a good source of phosphorus, iron and magnesium. PREPARE: add 1 cup buckwheat to 2 cups boiling, salted water. Cover and cook 10-12 minutes. Yields 3½ cups.

Bulgur is made from steamed, dried, and cracked wheat. Bulgur has a nutty flavor and a granular texture. It is a good source of potassium, B vitamins, iron, and calcium. Bulgur is a good choice for salads: Try it with tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and mint or with dried fruits, nuts, and cinnamon. PREPARE: Boil 2 cups of water. In a heat safe bowl add 1 cup bulgur and the 2 cups of water. Cover and let stand for 15-30 minutes or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork to separate the grains. Yield 2 cups.

Farro, also known as emmer wheat, is an ancient grain. It is most frequently imported from Italy and sold pearled (which cooks quickly) rather than hulled (whole). The cooked grain’s texture is dense and chewy, the flavor delicate and nutty. Rich in fiber, protein, iron and vitamins A, B, C, and E, farro is low in gluten and easily digested. It is often used in hearty Italian soups and as a substitute for Arborio rice in risotto.

Millet is a whole grain that can be used like rice in vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. It is not widely used in the US, but is very versatile and mildly flavored, it is great in salads. It is an excellent source of magnesium. PREPARE: add 1 cup millet to 2 cups boiling, salted water. Cook 30 minutes. Yields 4 cups.

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) cooks like a grain, but it is an herbaceous plant. It has the texture of small, light beads and a fairly mild taste that pairs well with beans and strong-flavored vegetables like kale, spinach, and red peppers. Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It’s also an excellent source of heart healthy potassium. PREPARE: add 1 cup quinoa to 1 ½ cups boiling, salted water. Cover and simmer 15 min. Yields 3½ cups.

Changing up your grains is an easy way to boost your vitamin and mineral consumption. Most of these grains are actually interchangeable in the recipes provided in the links above. Many can be cooked ahead and frozen for quick and easy meals including a hearty breakfast.