There’s a whole lot of goodness in whole grains. These plant-based foods serve up a delicious dose of B vitamins, minerals such as iron and magnesium, dietary fiber and a host of phytonutrients.
It’s no wonder with such powerful natural constituents that eating three or more servings of whole grains daily can reduce the risk of heart disease by 25 to 36 percent, stroke by 37 percent, Type II diabetes by 21 to 17 percent, intestinal cancers by 21 to 43 percent and hormone-related cancers by 10 to 40 percent, according to the Boston-based Whole Grains Council.
How can you reap these benefits? Eat more whole grains. This includes those grains that are familiar and those that you’ve perhaps never heard of or tried.
The first step is to identify what is a whole grain. It’s a grain that contains 100 percent of the original kernel, meaning the outer bran coating, inner germ and starchy endosperm. Oats, cornmeal, brown rice, wild rice, barley, buckwheat and whole wheat are well-known examples. Less common yet just as nutritious and delicious are whole grains such as amaranth, quinoa, teff and varieties of wheat such as einkorn.
Here are a few not-so-common whole grains worth a try.
Amaranth. Native to Mexico, amaranth was a staple source of nourishment for the ancient Aztecs. Its tiny, light brown seeds take on a sheen when cooked that make it look like caviar.
Amaranth is technically a pseudo-grain in that it is not a family member to oats and wheat, but it provides a similar nutrient profile. However, amaranth has an especially high level of complete protein. It contains the amino acid lysine while many other real and pseudo-grains do not.
Cook amaranth in 3 to 4 parts liquid to 1 part grain for about 15 minutes, then let it sit covered off the heat for another 10 to 15 minutes. Use it to make a pilaf, polenta or tabouleh.
Kañiwa. Also spelled cañihua, this cousin of quinoa has its origins in Peru and Bolivia. It’s a pseudo-grain that looks like small brown seeds.
Research shows that kañiwa is high in quercetin, an antioxidant phytonutrient also found in onions, capers and dark red- or blue-hued fruits and vegetables.
Toast kañiwa in a dry pan to bring out its nutty flavor. Then simmer for 15 minutes. There’s no need to rinse kañiwa because it doesn’t have a bitter coating called saponin that is found in quinoa. Make grain salads, pancakes or enjoy as a hot breakfast cereal.
Teff. These teeny tiny grains are an everyday staple in Ethiopia where teff is used to make the spongy textured flatbread injera. Teff offers a potent nutritional punch by providing twice the iron of other grains and three times the calcium. These brown, white or red seeds (there are naturally three colors of teff) have a sweet, molasses-like flavor when cooked.
To cook into a savory polenta or sweet porridge, simmer 1 cup of teff in 3 cups of broth or water for 20 minutes. Teff flour makes a tasty crepe or wrap.
Einkorn wheat. Einkorn is an ages-old variety of wheat. It’s much harder to grow than regular wheat, hence its relative unpopularity until late. However, it still grows in European countries such as Germany, Austria, France and Italy.
Research shows einkorn to have more protein and greater amounts of nutrients such as vitamin A, potassium and phosphorus than regular wheat.
Cook the whole einkorn or wheat berries in 2 ½ to 3 cups of water or broth for each cup of grain for 45 to 60 minutes until soft. Use the cooked grain as a side dish like rice or in soups or casseroles. Einkorn flour, like whole-wheat flour, is great for bread baking.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.